PLATTSBURGH - If you ask Elli Collins, it takes a special woman to walk in the shoes of the late Elizabeth Heins.
"Elizabeth Heins was a very inspirational lady," said Collins. "She was one of these vibrant kinds of people that you really like to be around. And, no matter what, she was always just upbeat."
Even when Heins was diagnosed with breast cancer, among other medical issues, in the mid-1980s, she never let her own challenges bring her down, said Collins.
"She had a number of medical problems but you wouldn't know it because she always cared about other people first," she said.
That's why the Treasure Chests breast cancer support group, through CVPH Medical Center, established the Elizabeth Heins Inspirational Survivorship Award in 2005, following Heins' death. The award, explained Collins, is given annually to a woman in honor of Heins, who battled several medical issues, including breast cancer.
Collins oversees the nomination process for the award and said there is basic criteria a committee reviews when choosing the next honoree.
"We look to see who is active with survivorship activities, who's out in the community making a difference and impact on individuals," she explained.
However, in an area where cancer is not an uncommon disease and people affected by it are increasingly looking for a way to turn their negative into a positive, Collins said potential nominees are everywhere.
"It's hard because there are so many people who fit the criteria; there are so many people who are inspirational," said Collins.
Gretchen "Libby" Goller of Champlain, a cancer survivor and past honoree, shrugs off any notion she's inspirational. Goller said she was just honored to be held in the same regard as her late friend.
"She was just one of my favorite people," Goller said of Heins. "She was full of vim and vigor. Whatever challenge was thrown at her, she faced it with determination. She lived life to the fullest and for that, I admired her."
"She was quite a gal and you'd certainly remember her if you met her," she added.
If people stop to think about it, everyone probably knows someone like Heins, said Collins.
"They're involved, they're fun to be around, they get things done," she said. "They're just upbeat, very caring and vivacious, with a zest for life."
Nomination letters for this year's Elizabeth Heins Inspirational Survivorship Award are due next Friday, April 16.
Those submitting nominations should consider how the person has been an inspiration to others, what personality traits she has that help her through life challenges, how she has been involved with survivorship activities, and if a cancer survivor has influenced her life.
Letters may be submitted in care of Elli Collins to FitzPatrick Cancer Center, 75 Beekman St., Plattsburgh N.Y. 12901. Letters may also be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, with Heins Award asked to be put in the subject line.
For more information contact Collins at 562-7148.
The award will be presented at the annual Treasure Chests Soiree Thursday, May 20, at the Rainbow and Banquet Hall in Altona.