Armed with her faith and hopeful mindset, Sheila Romero has conquered trials with grace. Now, she’s sharing her source of strength and how she’s found her higher purpose in life helping others in need.
With a smile, Sheila Romero tells us she had just turned 50 years old this month.
It’s the first time she’s revealed her age publicly. She’s proud to do so—not only because she knows that life is finite, but also given she’s survived circumstances that threatened her life.
On February 17, 2020, Sheila felt a lump on her breast. When she had it checked the next day, she was shocked to know that she had stage three breast cancer.
After constant prayers to God asking what she should do next, the answer became clear: when given the right opportunity, she will spread wisdom to others and share how Jesus saved her life.
“I have been contemplating for quite some time on whether I should share my story or not,” Romero, the vice-chair of carrier Philippines AirAsia, shares. “Because what God gives, he can take away. God didn’t heal me to keep it to myself. It’s meant to be shared that cancer is not a death sentence.”
A shift in perspective
Like many of us, Romero never expected that a global health crisis such as COVID-19 would happen in her lifetime.
“This pandemic definitely gave us a lot of realizations that life is short, that family’s important, as well as our personal relationships with others—it allowed me to take a step back and really examine where I was,” she muses. “You’ll never know if you’ll have tomorrow to say all the things you wanted to say.”
With her actualizations during the quarantine period came a lifestyle change. Instead of picking up her phone to check messages the moment she wakes up, Sheila now prays and gives thanks for the safety of herself and all she holds dear.
The pandemic was also the time she decided to dive deeper into her relationship with God. She wanted to know Him more and internalize that God thoroughly guides her life. With that thirst to further strengthen her faith, Sheila began reading the Bible daily and prioritized time for weekly Bible study.
“It occurred to me that I put a lot of focus on things that didn’t really serve my higher purpose, and this is when I realized what mattered the most, and that is God above all else, then family, my loved ones, and my health,” she says.
With the past year bringing unavoidable anxiety triggers, she relies on a Bible verse that helps her achieve peace of mind when she’s not only anxious but also uncertain about life: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
“It is through His promise of salvation that I am comforted. I realized that no problem is big enough because my God is bigger than any problem. Time was also something I took for granted before the pandemic,” she recalls. “Now, I value it so much that I carefully choose what I spend time on.”
Sheila admits that before the pandemic, she took her health for granted. However, the shift in her perspective helped her wholly understand the importance of exercise, taking time off to be in nature, and unwinding by spending time with her family.
By asking Jesus to control her life and lead her to the purpose she must fulfill, Sheila yearns to glorify God in all the work she does.
Sheila and her husband Deputy Speaker Congressman Mikee’s hospitality, aviation, and port operations enterprises generate jobs, livelihood, and provisions for hundreds of Filipinos. Romero shares that working from home has allowed her more time to fit in the “big shoes” Mikee turned over to her years back.
“I am grateful to God for all our business ventures, and my goal is to help more and more people by generating jobs and uplifting lives,” the chairperson adds.
With Sheila’s significant career responsibilities, she makes a conscious effort to achieve a balanced personal and professional life, which, she admits, was not always the case.
“When I was younger, career was my topmost priority. As I got older and started establishing my career, I put more focus on the material world as a consequence, I ended up putting less focus on God. All that has changed for me as I got closer to God. I was always a believer but because of this pandemic, I can confidently say that my vision is clearer and I walk side by side with Him more than ever ” Sheila says.
These days, she notes that following a daily schedule has helped her achieve the work-life balance she values. She makes sure that her workday is done by 6 PM to focus on time with her family. And throughout afternoons, she enjoys playtime with her 5-year-old son Steff.
“Success is not measured by how much is in your bank account. It is measured by how you live your life with the people nearest and dearest to you. It is also when I can help effect change and inspire those around me that I feel fulfilled,” she muses. “This is my life. It’s not easy. I have to work hard, be persistent, reach out and conquer new heights.”
Sheila acknowledges that her now balanced life did not happen overnight, however she embraces the path which leads her to constant growth. “If God handed it all to me easily, then there would be no lesson to learn, no character to develop, no pruning of attitude to be done,” she reflects.
Although the pandemic harshly impacted the industries she persists in, Romero discloses that they are determined to overcome these challenges and continue delivering excellent service to all their passengers, guests, and clients.
While she betters the lives of those employed by her, Sheila places great importance on philanthropic work to better more people’s lives, specifically sick children.
“If I can enhance others’ lives by encouraging them to have more hope in their lives, then I am able to create meaning in my life. Through my good works, I would like to glorify Jesus,” she shares.
Since 2015, her charitable foundation “I Want to Share” has developed ties with the pediatric Hematology-Oncology Department of the Philippine General Hospital. Together they organize fundraisers and host “SHINE! Dreams Do Come True,” an event where various musical artists would attend to entertain the patients, fulfilling their desire to experience a prom night. At the event, preloved gowns are donated and altered so that children can wear them to it.
To provide continuous support to families, the foundation raised P5 million for the infectious ward of the pediatric-oncology department of PGH through an auction in 2019. The funds are used to pay for medicines, chemotherapy, and various needs of over 600 children affected with cancer.
To celebrate the completed chemotherapy rounds of over 120 children, Romero and her foundation also started the project Beat It.
“It’s a time to celebrate hope and courage as the children become a living testimony of God’s grace and love through their healing. We will continue to support the department as I vowed to all the parents of these children,” she says.
“I’ve been helping kids afflicted with cancer for many years, way before I was even diagnosed with it and when I found out I had cancer it brought me even closer to this cause.
Miraculously, going through chemotherapy and radiation therapy is when Sheila says she “bloomed.” It was as if the turbulent sickness was present to allow her resilience to grow even stronger.
Unlike many cancer patients who experience skin discoloration, broken nails, loss of appetite, and full hair loss, Romero says she looked vigorous and her wellness was rarely questioned. Even her appetite was still present, and for that, she thanks the optimistic frame of mind, which boosted her well-being.
When Romero recalls when she learned about her diagnosis, she describes the moment as surreal, a moment that didn’t seem to resonate with reality.
Just as the doctor said she was “sure” the diagnosis is breast cancer, Romero was in an utter state of shock. The entrepreneur felt tears continuously rolling down her face while gripping onto Mikee’s hand.
In the brief moment, many thoughts instantly coursed through her mind. Fear-filled questions such as if she was going to die, what would happen to her children, and why is this even possible given cancer is not a sickness in her genes?
Romero looks back and realizes how everything happened rapidly. But amidst the emotional and physical turmoil, she declared that God is in control. She then began her treatment through complete cycles of chemotherapy, radiation, and a lumpectomy. After the surgery, she went through another round of chemo and radiation.
“I’m only human. I struggled with anxiety and fear. But God showed me that His timing could not be any better,” Romero says. She considers the height of the pandemic the timing God has given her because everyone was required to wear masks, working from home provided more ease, and no unnecessary events could take place.
While battling cancer, Romero reflects on how the Lord sent her “miracles upon miracles” to help her persevere. “From where to have my treatments and surgery to allowing me to well-receive “cold cap,” a new technology that helped me maintain my hair, I attribute the guidance from the Holy Spirit.”
The journey which required a great deal of strength was braced by her family. The survivor shares that she was constantly reminded to fight and remain resilient. “Despite my illness I continued to work, and have board meetings, approve strategies, and at the time, we even created AirAsia’s personal protective equipment,” Romero shares.
She adds that the carrier’s PPE was one of the first airlines to implement safety precautions.
With the style-forward designs, it earned them recognition from local and international media outlets.
Although her family members and only a handful of friends provided Romero with prayers, support, and love— only a handful of people knew about her diagnosis, and it’s only with the release of this article that the public, most of her friends, and even relatives will learn about her experience.
Advocating for early detection
According to her medical oncologist, Dr. Norman San Agustin, many women have been diagnosed at the late and deadly stages of breast cancer because they’re scared of getting checked. When the pandemic hit, that hesitancy escalated as people were afraid to visit hospitals all together.
However, Romero says it’s vital to get checked. It was her medical treatments and lumpectomy surgery that helped her gain full recovery. She urges all women to be courageous and schedule regular general medical check-ups and mammograms. The Asian Breast Center, where the executive had her surgery, is an ambulatory center, she points out.
If you’re still wary of visiting a hospital, you can opt to schedule appointments in an outpatient healthcare center for more peace of mind.
“It’s important to have early tests,” Romero says firmly. “Do not be afraid.”
Life with more meaning
By last December, right before her and Mikee’s 28th wedding anniversary, Romero was confirmed cancer-free. She owes her full recovery to her unwavering faith in Jesus and a positive mindset she firmly maintained.
“God has removed this sickness. God has healed me. He has plans for me, plans to prosper me and not to harm me,” she says.
Now that she’s shared her testimony of faith and bravely opened up on surviving breast cancer, Romero is now ready to champion cancer awareness, prevention, and early detection.
Beyond her existing foundations that financially support patients, Romero’s dreams are to help the Philippine General Hospital put up a cancer institute.
Since last year, the philanthropist has been in talks with PGH heads for tying down the project. But with COVID rates persisting, Romero says that they will put plans into motion when the pandemic settles.
To Romero, a meaningful life is purpose-driven. “A life without purpose is no life at all,” she says. “It is when you live to glorify Him through your works and thoughts every second and every minute that you achieve a meaningful life.”
Her faith has given her a reason to get through both good and challenging times.
“My relationship with God is not a byproduct of my illness,” Romero expounds. “I’ve always had this relationship with Him. But it’s deeper this time. It’s deeper now because I know there’s a purpose.”