Group honors memory of Shelly Byrne in ceremony

Published 8:52 am Thursday, May 4, 2023

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By JOYANNA LOVE | Managing Editor

Each year, Chilton County Relay for Life honors the memory of those who lost their battle with cancer and celebrates those who have survived. Now, a local group, the Sassy Sister Hatters, has found an enduring way to honor Shelly Byrne, who died from cancer in September 2022.

“She was my best friend,” Sarah Boartfield of Sassy Sister Hatters said of Byrne.

They had volunteered in the youth ministry together, “we did runs together, we did pretty much everything together.”

Byrne was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2015.

“We were going for a run, and she was asking me questions, medical questions, and she said, ‘I think I should go get it checked,’” Boartfield said.

Getting her concerns checked is what led to Byrne being diagnosed.

Sometimes Boartfield was able to go to Byrne’s appointments with her.

“She changed her diet massively, changed basically her lifestyle, and then the doctors were like, ‘Whatever you are doing, keep doing it,’” Boartfield said.

She explained that Byrne had stopped eating sugar “because cancer feeds off of that.”

These changes had kept the cancer from spreading for a while.

“She didn’t want to go back on chemo or radiation,” Boartfield said. “She did not want to do that. She fought that. She was a fighter from the very beginning. That was her personality, that was who she was with everything … She was a fighter.”

“Doing this on my terms” was how Byrne wanted to face cancer. However, the cancer did start to grow, and she eventually had to have chemotherapy. When her hair started to fallout, Byrne had her head shaved, and she had Boartfield take pictures.

“We went to a shop, and she wore her camo pants and the whole bit, and I took those pictures,” Boartfield said. “At first, it was very emotional, in a sense, I am looking through my (camera) lens, and I’m thinking, ‘This is my best friend that is having to go through (this).’”

Bryne had previously been involved in Chilton County’s Relay for Life in support and memory of friends who had cancer. When she was diagnosed, her participation in the annual campaign increased. She also served as a committee member for the organization.

Byrne had been in remission for two years before cancer was found again in 2018. She fought again until 2022.

“She was probably one of the most dedicated Christian, Proverbs 31 women that I have ever met in my entire life,” Boartfield said.

The Sassy Sister Hatters were in the beginning stages of planning in 2022, organizer Bonnie Himes said.

Byrne had been a part of a similar group previously.

“I knew that Shelly had relapsed, but I didn’t want her to feel that we were leaving her out in any way, shape or form, and I was hoping and praying that she would be able to participate,” Himes said.

Himes sent Byrne a text message letting her know about what was being planned. Byrne responded that she wanted to participate whenever she felt up to it. Her excitement grew, and Byrne went ahead and ordered a hat and dress in the fun colors of the group. Those under 50 wear pink hats and lavender, while those over 50 wear red and purple. Since she was in her 40s, Byrne had purchased a pink hat.

“She was so looking forward to participate as much as she could and wear her pink hat,” Himes said.

At Byrne’s memorial service, the hat was on display. Himes asked what the plans were for the hat. Byrne had said before she died that she wanted Himes to have the hat for the group.

“This is going to be a remembrance of Shelly,” Himes said.

The hat is worn in a ceremony held for women when they turn 50 and change from a pink hat to a red one.

“We will tell the story of Shelly and how much the group meant to her,” Himes said. “This will hopefully be a little legacy as to her strength and her courage. She fought to the very, very end … Shelly was one of the strongest women I knew.”