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Powered by faith and family, gospel queen Sheilah Belle triumphs over illnesses

Jeremy Lazarus | 1/6/2017, 9:07 p.m.
Richmond gospel queen Sheilah Belle is “pressing forward” through the health challenges that have dogged her for six months.

Richmond gospel queen Sheilah Belle is “pressing forward” through the health challenges that have dogged her for six months.

Ms. Belle is still doing her popular daily gospel show on Praise 104.7 FM and preparing for the summer gospel festival she stages annually. She also is keeping people up to date on gospel happenings and personalities through her nationally recognized online Belle Report.

And she is doing all that as she continues to recover from breast cancer and life-threatening infections that struck during her treatment.

“Coming here to do the show has been important, a great incentive,” she said during a telephone interview last week as she took a break during her five-hour program that runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

She said she does not mention her health problems on the air.

“People have enough problems. They don’t want to hear about mine,” she said. “They tune in to be uplifted.”

Ms. Belle said that with the devoted help of family members and caring doctors, most of her problems are behind her.

She said she has been told that she has beaten the infections and that the chemotherapy apparently has killed the cancer. She said she benefited from regular physical checkups that detected the cancer early.

Ahead is surgery to remove the portion of her left breast where the cancer was found and reconstruction of the area, she said. That should happen in the next two months.

Now, she is speaking out about cancer. Last month, she teamed with contemporary gospel artist and musician Jekalyn Carr to host a program on cancer at St. Paul’s Baptist Church. Nearly 1,000 people turned out for the program that featured music and the testimony of eight cancer survivors.

Ms. Belle said the program helped her and others understand “what others have been going through.”

Ms. Belle began her battle with the disease in July when a routine test disclosed a small malignancy. Initially she sought chemotherapy treatment at the University of Virginia to avoid local knowledge about her health issue. She was fitted with a port on her arm for infusion of cancer-killing drugs.

But she became ill and was hospitalized in Richmond in early September when it was discovered that she had contracted MRSA, a drug-resistant version of staphylococcus infection. She also had an infection at the site of the port. That infection, she said, entered her bloodstream.

She spent a week in the hospital, she said, and then was back on the radio while she took twice-a-day treatments for the infections.

With help from her sister, Rita Belle, a nurse, she would take her first two-hour treatment around 5:30 a.m. so she could shower and get to the station before 10 a.m. to do her show. She repeated the process around 6 p.m.

The treatments took nearly a month before she was pronounced free of infection and able to restart the painful chemotherapy.

Along with losing her hair, the whole ordeal led to a loss of more than 70 pounds.