SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — Former Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, the first woman to head the department, died Monday after a lengthy battle with breast cancer. She was 66.

“It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of Sheriff Hutchens,” current Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes wrote on Twitter. “I will never forget Sheriff Hutchens and the many incredible conversations we shared. How blessed I am to have her be a part of my life.”

“For me personally, she was a mentor and a friend. I will continue to be inspired by her commitment to always do the right thing, regardless of the consequences, and serve with the department and community’s interests first without need for self-recognition. I am tremendously grateful for the opportunities she presented me, and the many lessons I learned from her over the years,” Barnes said in a statement.

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens speaks during a news conference as the Orange County Fire Authority and the Orange County Sheriff Department announces a new joint air operations plan between the two public agencies and their helicopters. 

Hutchens was appointed sheriff in June 2008 following the January resignation of Mike Carona, who was later convicted of witness tampering. She was elected to her first term in June of 2010 and served two terms.

In November 2012, Hutchens was diagnosed with breast cancer. In June 2017 she announced her retirement but denied it was for health reasons, saying she was in remission.

“I have heard rumors out there that the sheriff is stepping down because of illness,” Hutchens said after she announced her retirement, saying it was time after more than four decades in law enforcement. “I don’t have an illness. I’m fine. Everything is coming back (OK), everything is OK, so it’s not for a health reason. I work out in the morning. I feel good.”

Hutchens retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department a year prior to taking over the Orange County department.

“In keeping with Sheriff Hutchens’ wishes, there will not be a memorial service,” Barnes said. “Her family has asked that donations be made in her name to Drug Use Is Life Abuse (www.duila.org) or the Susan G. Komen Foundation (www.komen.org), two charities she actively supported while in office.”

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)