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Good Neighbors: Dog rescuing mom from Cheektowaga battles breast cancer

"I've been saving the lives of animals, and now they're saving mine," said Heather Hilton who was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — Two months ago, Heather Hilton, a 36-year-old mother from Cheektowaga, drove to North Carolina to rescue a 3-month-old German shepherd. She ended up returning home to Western New York with five puppies. She kept the German shepherd named Gunner and found homes for the other four.

"I truly feel my purpose is to save as many animals as possible," said Hilton. "My love for animals, I couldn't sit back and not do anything when I knew there was such a need for these dogs to be rescued."

In the nearly 20 years she's been rescuing animals, she estimates she has found homes for more than 100 cats and dozens of dogs. Sometimes she'll work with the Chasin' Tails Rescue out of North Carolina, or local county SPCAs, other times she'll do it on her own. Much of Hilton's Facebook page is dedicated to posting about animals who need homes. Hilton will often keep those animals at her own home until she can find other foster families or forever homes. 

She currently has six cats and three dogs, all of which she saved. But Hilton says those animals have also saved her by never leaving her side.

"Cancer will make anyone feel alone, and having the animals definitely helped me. I don't know what I would've done without them," she said.

It was February 20201 when Hilton found a lump in her breast and went to the doctor. 

"They ended up finding five tumors and I was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer at 35-years-old," she explained. 

The prognosis was not good. After eight rounds of chemotherapy at Sloan Kettering in New York City and taking a chemotherapy pill, one year later her scans are now coming back clean. She doesn't want to say she is cancer-free, but Hilton believes it truly is a miracle.

"I want people to know stage four isn't the end. If I can do it, anybody else can," she said, offering this advice. "Find the best resources, the power of prayer and don't ever give up."

She couldn't give up, because as a single mom she knew she needed to be there for her 10-year-old daughter Roxie, and of course, for her animals. 

"It's definitely my purpose. Working with animals and passing it on to my daughter. That's why I'm here. And being diagnosed with cancer in the last year made me realize what's important. It's not sitting behind a desk each day. It's raising a good human and saving the lives of voiceless animals," she said.

Hilton was nominated by a friend to be featured as a "Good Neighbor" on Channel 2 News. She didn't seek media attention or ask for anything. But another friend has set up a GoFundMe account for Hilton after she lost her job at a law firm during her cancer battle and drained her bank account paying for medical bills. If you'd like to be a "good neighbor" and help Hilton in any way, click on her Go Fund Me account here

To nominate a "Good Neighbor" to be featured on Channel 2, email Melissa.Holmes@wgrz.com. 

To see past "Good Neighbor" features, click the story links below.

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