Cancer Survivor Day

The four Baumgardner girls battle cancer together

Photo with no caption
By Maryellen Duckett
Blount Memorial Hospital

The self-proclaimed "Baumgardner Girls of Maryville" share an uncommon bond. Like most sisters, they are linked by love,
history and family ties, but these four also share an unwelcome connection - cancer.

Three of the sisters are cancer survivors. The fourth, Janice (Baumgardner) Woody, 57, has had pre-cancerous cells removed, receives regular cancer screenings and serves as a support person for the others. The sisters say that a family history of cancer - particularly among their female relatives - made them realize early on that cancer could become an issue later in life.

For the youngest sister, Debbie (Baumgardner) Sellers, who turns 55 on June 4, the first cancer diagnosis came sooner than anyone in the family ever expected.

"I was the first sister diagnosed with cancer, and I was shocked," said Sellers. "I was only 28 when I was diagnosed with uterine cancer, and I had a hysterectomy to remove it."

Sellers won her initial battle with cancer, but the disease has returned three times since then. Twelve years ago, she was diagnosed and successfully treated at Blount Memorial Hospital for breast cancer. After that, Sellers was diagnosed with melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer - and had a cancerous lesion removed from her leg. Now, Sellers faces her toughest cancer challenge. In October 2006, her doctors at the Blount Memorial Cancer Center discovered cancer in Sellers’ lungs, chest and lymph nodes.

"It’s been difficult, but I am so thankful to everyone at the Cancer Center, particularly my oncologist Dr. (Thomas) Kubota," Sellers said. "The chemotherapy is shrinking my cancer. They did a CT scan that showed the cancer is out of my chest area now."

While battling cancer most of her adult life has taken a physical and emotional toll on Sellers, she said that the disease has only strengthened her bond with her sisters. When both Pat (Baumgardner) Brackett, 60, and Pam (Baumgardner) Talbott, 56, were diagnosed with breast cancer, Sellers was there to offer practical advice based on her own experience, and dole out plenty of hugs and support.

"My sister Pat had to have chemotherapy and radiation, while Pam had a mastectomy. Janice hasn’t had cancer, but she’s
always there for all three of us," Sellers said. "We enjoy spending time together and talking with each other every day."

Before Sellers’ most recent cancer diagnosis, the sisters had regularly traveled together on sisters-only outings. One of their favorite destinations was Pigeon Forge where the four would rent a room, shop the outlets, play board games and swap stories about husbands and children. All of the sisters are married, and between them they have six children, three stepchildren and five grandchildren.

Brackett said it looked like the sisters would have to skip their annual trip in 2007 due to Seller’s cancer treatment. Then they learned about Celebrate Spring: the Blount Memorial Cancer Center’s mountain retreat for women with cancer, and decided to sign up.

That retreat was the best thing for us," said Brackett, who has survived two bouts of breast cancer and two types of skin cancer. "We all agreed that the weekend was one of the best we had ever spent together."

While the sisters said they enjoyed the Celebrate Spring group activities and meals, it was being able to spend time together in a safe, supportive environment that made the retreat so valuable and memorable.

"The Celebrate Spring retreat was a blessing. Normally, we try to have a sisters weekend," Woody said. "This past year we didn’t get to because Debbie was sick, so this was extremely good for us. We were able to be together, laugh and enjoy ourselves even though it is a difficult time. Having others there who had faced or were facing the same challenges made it more comfortable for all of us. We even managed to get in our shopping trip."

The sisters are already making plans to attend the next Celebrate Spring in March 2008. They’re also focusing all of their energy and prayers on helping Sellers battle cancer one more time. Their sisterly support ranges from bringing Seller’s family homemade soup, cornbread and cookies for supper to sitting at Sellers’ bedside at Blount Memorial Hospital when her treatment requires an overnight stay.

And while cancer connects the Baumgardner sisters, the four agree that they will never allow the disease to either define who they are or negatively impact their outlook on life.

Added Talbott, a breast cancer survivor who also lost her right nostril to skin cancer, "God never gives you more than you
can handle. Yes, my family has had a lot of cancer, but we can always look around and find somebody else who is worse off. We never feel sorry for ourselves. We’re just thankful and blessed that we’re alive and still going."

‘Boot-Scootin’ Bonanza’ kicks off Cancer Survivors Day on June 3

Everyone is invited to attend the free "Boot Scootin’ Bonanza" Cancer Survivors Day celebration sponsored by the Blount Memorial Cancer Center and Foundation. This year’s event will take place at Springbrook Park in Alcoa on Sunday, June 3 from 12:30-3:30 p.m.

WATE-TV Channel 6 news anchor, Gene Patterson, will emcee the afternoon of food, fellowship and fun. Scheduled events include an old-fashioned family barbecue, inspirational guest speakers, live boot scootin’ music, children’s activities, giveaways, bingo with prizes, and special recognition and gifts for cancer survivors.

The American Cancer Society estimates that there are nearly 10 million cancer survivors living in the United States today.
Increased awareness of the disease, early detection and diagnosis and improved treatment and technologies all have helped triple the number or U.S. survivors since 1971.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a national war on cancer. He signed the National Cancer Act which established a national program to search for a cancer cure.

According to Blount Memorial Hospital, approximately one-third of all cancer deaths in Tennessee each year are lung cancer-related. Both smoking an inhaling second-hand smoke have been proven to be significant risk factors for lung cancer. To help reduce the chance of developing this deadly disease, medical professionals recommend individuals stop smoking or never start and do not allow smoking at home in a car.

© 2007 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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