Orange County

‘She’s a survivor’: Vanessa Echols beat breast cancer & helped others do so, too

ORLANDO, Fla. — Eighteen years have passed since Channel 9 anchor Vanessa Echols received news that would change her life -- she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her battle led to a legacy of helping others identify the disease early, receive treatment for it and survive it.


“Cancer doesn’t care that you have plans for 2004,” Echols said after being diagnosed in 2004. “Cancer doesn’t care you are on TV. Cancer doesn’t care that people are counting on you. It’s not like it schedules an appointment and says, ‘Hello, Vanessa. This is cancer. Do you have time for me this year? No, it just visits you when it wants to.”

But Echols did not mope or ask why me? She instead channeled her efforts into fighting the disease through chemotherapy and surgery.

“For me, my faith is what kept me going -- just knowing that I was not alone on the journey,” she said. “When it was all said and done, I would get better.”

Read: ‘We’ve set a standard’: Vanessa Echols calls on the next generation to ‘rise to the occasion’

Breast cancer survivor Deborah Hausman sits on the Susan G. Komen leadership committee for Florida and on the Orlando Sports Foundation’s board of directors.

She has gotten to know Echols through outreach efforts, including the Cure Bowl and the More than Pink walk.

“She has been the leader of this pink army,” Hausman said. “What Vanessa has done for our community is just beyond, I think, anybody else that I have encountered dealing with breast cancer in Central Florida. She has been an advocate ... She’s a survivor, so she can speak from experience.”

Read: Vanessa Echols Day: Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings presents proclamation

Once Echols had survived the illness, she pivoted her focus to helping others also beat it, founding the nonprofit Compassionate Hands & Hearts.

Kelly Garrison is one of hundreds of breast cancer patients who received financial assistance from Echols’ organization.

“We were struggling,” Garrison said. “There were times when he had to get a second job to help make ends meet.”

Watch: Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer surprises Vanessa Echols with city proclamation ahead of her retirement

The organization paid for patients’ rent or mortgage, utility bills, gas and food.

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Jason Kelly

Jason Kelly,

Jason Kelly joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2014. He serves as the station's Digital Executive Producer.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray,

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.