The Cause Behind the Crown

She’s Hooked
April 5, 2023
You Understand? – The Observer
April 5, 2023

Nearly 20 years ago, a beautiful brown haired, wide eyed little girl sat glued to the TV as she watched the Miss USA pageant year after year, and secretly dreamed of being on that stage one day. But how? She had no pageant experience, she loved riding dirt bikes, and playing soccer. While she couldn’t explain it, something about the stage and pageantry intrigued her.

At the age of 12, Houma native Sylvia Masters competed in her first pageant. “I was in seventh grade. My mom would like to say that’s when the pageant bug bit me. It was an all-natural pageant, so there was no makeup. But I remember meeting all the girls, and being under the lights, and just having so much fun,” she recalls.

Over the next 15 years Sylvia continued to compete, learning, experiencing, and dreaming. However, her road was not an easy one. Disappointment and loss are also part of her story. “I remember going through periods of self doubt, and really hard experiences,” she shared. “Especially the loss of my dad.”

In June of 2015, her father was diagnosed with cancer. “By the time he was diagnosed, it was stage 4, and he needed to start treatment right away,” Sylvia explained. What started as a small lump at the base of his neck, was squamous cell carcinoma. “We sat down as family that night. We heard the word cancer, but we all had hope. He started radiation and chemo right away,” she said.

“With five children, it was very important to my dad to stay close to home. He started treatment at Terrebonne General Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, and received excellent care. That’s when I started volunteering there,” Sylvia explained. As a volunteer she would greet patents, and visit with their families, in addition to making sure drinks and snacks were available. “I witnessed the care that my dad received along with the other patients there, and I have so much respect for these nurses and doctors.”

Over time Sylvia developed relationships with other patients and their families. “It was so eye opening to have conversations with other families. I formed connections with strangers, because we were in this together,” she said. In December of the same year, Sylvia shared that her father was given only three to six months to live. “We were devastated, but I wanted to treasure the time we had left,” she shared. As a student at Nicholls State University, in-between classes she continued to volunteer at the Terrebonne Parish Animal Shelter, the MBP Cancer Center, and take care of her father.

“I started what we’d call our wheelchair adventures. I’d carry his oxygen, and push him up and down the street. We’d talk and I would video our conversations, so I could treasure them,” she shared. “One day I asked him ‘What do you hope for me? And he responded, something very, very good is going to happen to you. It hasn’t happened yet, but you will know it.’ And at that moment, I knew that one day I would be Miss Louisiana. My dad was always so supportive of me! And I’m so grateful that my dad got to see my passion, and the voice that pageantry gave me,” Sylvia explained.

“My dad’s cancer diagnosis is a part of my journey. His diagnosis gave me a voice to make a difference, and to promote early detection. It could have saved his life,” she shared. “Even when we faced his terminal diagnosis, we’d got to church together. When the cancer metastasized and spread to his internal organs, he remained faithful, and we’d pray the rosary together. His diagnosis never turned him away from God.”

Since her father passed away in August of 2016, Sylvia has spent significant time defining her purpose in God’s eyes. “I’m very faithful, and I do believe that this is part of my story. Now I have to use it to help others. I can be an advocate and hopefully help someone else’s family. If my father had presented his symptoms sooner, there could have been a better outcome.”

Following her first Miss Louisiana USA pageant in 2017, Sylvia realized the impact and the voice she could have if she won the title. She knew what she’d say, and what she’d advocate for. After 15 years of competing in pageants, and her sixth and final year of competing for the Miss Louisiana USA title, she walked away with the crown. Sylvia has earned a spot on the national stage at the Miss USA pageant, the stage that wide eyed little girl dreamed of. “I continued to believe in myself, and was determined that I was going to do it. I walked off the stage for five years, and I walked away with grace, Sylvia shared. “I believe in God’s will, and in God’s timing. This year, I was ready,” she said.

“This whole year, I want to make as big a difference as I can,” she shared. In addition to promoting cancer research and early detection, Sylvia is an animal advocate. “We have a real problem with overcrowding, and euthanasia is real. I volunteer, foster, adopt, and spend time in the shelters. My goal is to educate the public about spay and neutering. They don’t have a voice, but I can advocate for them.”

“The experiences I’ve gone through have shaped me into the person I am today. I’m proof that you can be anything you want to be. Set your eyes on your goals and dreams and keep reaching for them,” she shared. The beloved news anchor at KLFY News 10 in Lafayette will reign as Miss Louisiana USA 2023 representing our beautiful state throughout the year, and advocating for her causes on a state and national level.

Sylvia has made numerous local appearances at schools, and parades, and attended an event with First Lady Jill Biden. Held at the Louisiana Cancer Research Center in New Orleans, she joined the administration’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative, aimed at cutting the number of cancer deaths in the US in half over the next 25 years. Sylvia will also be a special guest at the upcoming Thibodaux Regional Cancer Institute’s Festival of Hope, as well as Relay for Life Terrebonne Parish. “I hope that in my lifetime I can see a cure for cancer, I’m absolutely going to do my part,” she said.