A Hartwell woman driving to Gainesville four times a week for medical treatment scrapes up enough money for gas for the trips.
A mother caring for her disabled son pinches and saves every penny to feed her family.
A grandmother raising her grandchildren struggles to pay for their everyday needs.
The women and more like them share two common bonds: Each is battling cancer and each has been helped by ovarian cancer survivor Sue Sigmon-Nosach.
The catch is Sigmon-Nosach does not know their names, and she plans to keep it that way.
For nearly three years, Sigmon-Nosach has helped 363 Northeast Georgia women through the Partnership for Gynecological Cancer Support. The nonprofit organization supplies women with gift cards to use for their everyday needs, ranging from money to buy groceries and gas to purchasing medications to stave off the side effects of chemotherapy treatment.
“Some of our patients are uninsured,” said Elida Lopez, an oncology patient navigator with Dr. Andrew Green’s office in Gainesville. “Getting the medications they need to help them feel better is paramount. It’s critical to making them have a better outcome.”
And Sigmon-Nosach knows first-hand about striving for a better outcome.
In 2004, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her doctor told her she would “be dead within a year.” The statistics stood by her doctor’s diagnosis.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates in 2015 about 21,290 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer and 14,180 women will die from the disease.
Ovarian cancer accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system, according to the American Cancer Society website (www.cancer.org). This high mortality rate reflects, in part, an absence of early symptoms and a lack of effective screening tests, according to the National Cancer Institute website (www.cancer.gov). Thus, ovarian cancer often is diagnosed at an advanced stage after the disease has spread beyond the ovary. A woman’s chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100.
Sigmon-Nosach is one of the lucky ones who survived the diagnosis and bypassed her prognosis. Along the way, she found a way to heal from her battle wounds through art and cultivated a new friendship that blossomed into something bigger than the both of them.
In 2009, Sigmon-Nosach and her friend and fellow ovarian cancer patient, Debbie Torbett, formed an art business, 2 Broken Broads. It was an outlet for their artistic skills as well as a way to raise money and awareness for ovarian cancer.
Then in March 2013, the women designed a new business plan. They founded A Partnership for Gynecological Cancer Support, a nonprofit geared to help women undergoing treatment of the disease. Its mission is to assist with living expenses not covered by insurance.
In its first year, the organization helped about 50 women who suffered from ovarian cancer. Both women were thrilled at the results.
However, the bond and business the women formed experienced a hard blow a less than a year later. Torbett lost her battle to cancer and died in January 2014. In the time since, Sigmon-Nosach has carried on, coveting the final words of her friend and keeping a promise at the same time.
“She asked me how long I would do this,” Sigmon-Nosach said, recalling her final visit to see her friend. “I told her ‘As long as I have breath in my body, I will do this.”
And she has.
Sigmon-Nosach is busily preparing for the third annual fundraiser “A Broad’s Brush: the Art of Survivors,” set for Sept. 27 at Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville.
The Partnership’s Chief Operating Officer Barbara Gambill is surprised at the event’s success.
“I am amazed by it and blessed by it,” she said, noting many businesses, groups and individuals have donated arts, crafts and an array of items to the auction.
The one-of-a-kind aspect at the auction is the 11 artists featured is either an ovarian cancer survivor or has been touched by the disease.
Photographer Pam Keene found herself helping care for a friend who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer around Christmastime. But recently the disease hit even closer to home.
“In April, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer,” she said.
Now the Flowery Branch woman is seeing the firsthand effects of the disease as she goes to doctor’s appointments and chemo treatments with the two women.
“I help them manage,” Keene said. “My heart is always to try to help people. If I can do something to help somebody else.”
In that regard, Keene was happy to donate one of her photographs and a rare painting to the upcoming Broad’s Brush auction. During a recent visit, Keene showed Sigmon-Nosach a painting of hers she qualified as “bad.” Sigmon-Nosach disagreed.
“She said ‘We need to have that at the auction,’” Keene said.
She agreed to the request, but may not let it get out of her possession.
“I may have to buy that back so no one has to have that on their wall,” she said with a laugh.
The art donated to the auction helps raise money for the Partnership.
Art from women who survive cancer has a special place in Sigmon-Nosach’s heart. She said art therapy helped her survive the aftermath of ovarian cancer.
After being “so sick for so long,” the 62-year-old woman was restless.
“My hand kept itching to do something,” she said.
Therefore, Sigmon-Nosach enrolled in an art course at Brenau University. She tried watercolors at first, but the medium “didn’t drive fast enough.”
She switched to glass mosaics and found her niche. Torbett joined her in the practice, which led them to form 2 Broken Broads.
“We decided to call ourselves the Broken Broads because we took things that were discarded, like broken glass, and made art,”
Sigmon-Nosach said. “Kind of like how we felt broken and discarded when we were diagnosed.”
One of her pieces will be up for auction at the event. Other items have been separated into three divisions: a Chinese raffle, silent auction and live auction.
Pieces in the raffle must be purchased at the event and are less expensive. The silent auction items may be bid at the event or online through BidPal, which has a mobile billing app.
“This is really very simple,” Sigmon-Nosach said. “It will be easier to check in and out. And it will be a lot more fun because people can mingle.”
The live auction items are the most coveted since they range from tickets for two at the final round of the Masters golf tournament to a five-night stay in Costa Rica.
All proceeds from the event go to A Partnership of the Gynecological Cancer Support group, which helps women who are suffering from the disease. Last year’s event raised $47,000.
Sigmon-Nosach does not know how much they will raise this year, but she hopes for more, especially since most of the money is given to an area woman in need.
“We want to put money in the hand of people here who need it,” she said.
But of course, she does not even know their faces or names. And she thinks that’s best.
“For their sake, it’s easier for them to take (the gift),” she said. “They know where it comes from.”
It comes from a fellow ovarian cancer survivor.
A Broad’s Brush: The Art of Survivors
When: 2-6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 27
Where: Quinlan Visual Arts Center, 514 Green St., Gainesville
How much: $20