By Michaela Gibson Morris
When Robert Thames needed help to stay strong during his lung cancer treatment, friends he didn’t know he had already had taken a swing for him.
The Belden man is one of hundreds of cancer patients who receive help from the North Mississippi Medical Center Cancer Patient Fund, which gets its biggest infusion of cash from the annual Take a Swing at Cancer tournament.
This year, golfers will be teeing up May 17 and 18 at Old Waverly in West Point to help make sure there’s support for cancer patients who need assistance.
“If we can help people with that part of their treatment, they’re more likely to complete the treatment, extending their lives or their quality of life,” said Cindy Edwards, the NMMC oncology department social worker.
For Thames, who was diagnosed with Stage II lung cancer in November and started radiation and chemotherapy in December, the patient fund was a crucial life line.
A partially disabled veteran of the Air Force and Army National Guard, he had gotten bad advice on health insurance policies and ended up without prescription coverage during January.
The fund helped him with pain medication to address the irritation in his esophagus from the radiation and nutritional supplements
“We really didn’t have the income to buy them on our own,” Thames said.
The medications helped him fight weight loss that could have derailed his cancer treatment scheduled.
Transportation assistance from the fund helped defray the cost of the daily 25-mile round trip from his home on the Pontotoc-Lee county line and NMMC-Tupelo oncology services.
Thames finished the treatment in February and received good news from his oncology team.
“The mass had shrunk by more than half,” Thames said. “The doctors were very pleased, and of course, I am.”
For now, Thames is working on regaining his strength. His team will decide if he needs another round of treatment after imaging scans later this month.
“I’m still fighting fatigue,” Thames said. “It takes a lot out of you.”
The Cancer Patient Fund provides an umbrella for the entire region.
It provides tremendous relief to patients who are already carrying a heavy burden as they deal with cancer diagnosis and treatment.
It provides help with medications to manage side effects and pain, nutritional supplements, transportation and emergency assistance.
“Patients are so grateful,” Edwards said.
In 2014, the cancer fund provided more than $111,000 in help with supportive medications, nutritional supplements, transportation and emergency assistance to residents of 21 counties in North Mississippi and Western Alabama.
Over the past decade, the fund averages about $200,000 in assistance annually.
In addition to the tournament, the fund receives support from the United Way of North Mississippi, Midnite Pottery butterfly sales, NMMC employees and individual donations.
“We’re expecting a record year,” because of a merger of medical oncology services last year, said Steven Blaylock, of the Health Care Foundation of North Mississippi, the philanthropic arm of North Mississippi Health Services which manages the fund.
Now in its 19th year, the Take a Swing at Cancer tournament has evolved into a two-day event with activities beyond the greens organized by community volunteers and representatives from the Health Care Foundation and NMMC Oncology Services.
“It’s become more than a golf tournament,” Blaylock said. “We had 500 people come through the gates last year. … It’s grown so much.”
There’s now a full slate of activities on Sunday, May 17.
There will be a medal play golf tournament, the Corks and Clay pottery painting event for non-golfers at the Ritz in downtown West Point and a dinner and live auction.
The Sunday dinner, live auction and pottery painting event benefit the Kitty Bryan Dill Cancer Endowment, which provides assistance for Clay County area residents fighting cancer and is managed by the Health Care Foundation.
Participants can pay separately for the dinner or book stay-and-play accommodations at Old Waverly to make a getaway out of the event.
The main tournament – a four-person scramble on Monday, May 18 – includes morning and afternoon flights.
The $250 per person fee includes the golf, cart, lunch, evening social and registration gift.
TAKING A SWING AT CANCER
Old Waverly, West Point
May 17: Medal play tournament; Corks and Canvas pottery painting event; dinner and live auction
May 18: Four-person scramble, morning and afternoon flights; lunch, evening social
• May 18 tournament: $250 a golfer
• Stay and play package: Includes both tournaments, May 17 dinner event, accommodations at Old Waverly – $3,000 for team of four
• Corks & Canvas event, $75
• Additional tickets to May 17 dinner and auction, $100
More information: Call (662) 377-3613 or (800) 843-3375, or visit www.nmhs.net/hcf.php