Sheila Schauer Mathews faced two major battles over the past few years: the financial crisis and a breast-cancer scare.

After spending years surgically attacking individual cysts as they arose, she had a host of them appear at once and underwent a bilateral mastectomy last year. She is now well.

"I told myself that I was going to be in control," Mathews says. "The disease was not going to control me."

She noticed the cysts in the fall of 2008-while at the Plaza Hotel in New York getting ready to receive an award as one of the Most Powerful Women in Banking. "I just said, 'Dear Lord, they're back,'" she says.

She had surgery just a few months later. But recovering from the mastectomy, and then the subsequent reconstruction, took much longer than expected due to complications-10 months instead of four.

At the same time Mathews had a lot going on at the bank as the economy worsened.

But she says going to work was therapeutic. "It was a good way to distract myself from thinking, 'Oh my gosh, I could be dying.' We can always find ways to find good in the crisis that we are going through."

The bank stayed strong, same as Mathews.

She credits tough underwriting standards, modest declines in commercial real estate values in its market and stringent expense controls with helping the bank withstand the financial crisis. But, she says, "It was definitely the most challenging year in our bank's history."

For the second quarter of this year, it posted a return on assets of 2.19 percent and a return on equity of 23.1 percent-which most banks would envy even in good times.

Mathews has her happy ending too.

Her cysts turned out to be benign. She also got engaged two months before she found out about the cysts and got married in Hawaii in the middle of her health ordeal.

"My husband is amazing. He said, 'I don't love your boobs. I love you.'"

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