Annalynn Baiden Barnett
Mom to Gertrude (German wirehaired pointer) & Otis (wirehaired dachshund) // Lover of all football! (But especially to my alma mater Clemson) // Foodie and Want-to-be Chef // Sales and Marketing Executive for over 30 years // Always up for learning something new // Travel Junkie // Cancer Survivor & Caregiver
My initial connection to the Cancer Survivors Park was through my parents, Jean and Art Baiden. They were some of the “early adopters” and were part of the first capital campaign committee. I am still amazed today at the vision that team had years ago when the current space looked so different than it does today!
My mother Jean was first diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in 1996. After surgery, chemo, and radiation, she went into remission for 16 years. Then in 2012, cancer came into my life again when my husband Jimmy was diagnosed with Stage 3 Rectal Cancer. Six months later, my mother’s cancer metastasized in her bones. For the next seven years, Mom and Jimmy both fought their courageous battles nonstop until their deaths.
Cancer has completely changed my life in both the worst and best ways. It robbed me of two of the people that I loved the most in the whole world. My husband and I had lots more adventures planned and memories to make that now we cannot experience together. Anyone who has lost their mother knows what a void you feel once you realize you can no longer just pick up the phone and call her. Even though cancer changed my life forever, there are also some silver linings.. The process strengthened my faith and relationships (to include my marriage), realigned my priorities, and revealed strengths I didn’t realize I possessed. I have started trying new things and actually developing some hobbies.
My faith has always been strong, but this journey has taken it to higher and deeper levels. Jimmy’s diagnosis came as a complete shock to me, but not to him. I think once he was symptomatic, he knew it was cancer. I literally thought a colonoscopy would reveal a few polyps to be the cause of his issues and was totally astounded when the surgeon confided in me that it was cancer. Even though we got second and third opinions on his diagnosis and treatment plan, we were frankly surprised to find that we were most impressed with the medical resources available in Greenville. We often talked about what a blessing it was to be able to sleep in our own bed at night and to be surrounded by our support network constantly. Some people do not have a choice and have to travel far away from their homes for the necessary treatment so we were always grateful that world class care was available right here at home.While my mother enjoyed periods of remission following her initial diagnosis, Jimmy’s battle was constant for six and a half years. We had many early morning trips to the hospital for surgeries that neither of us were confident he would survive. Because of that, we had to have the hard conversations that people avoid about what life might look like if things did not go the way we had hoped. Our faith gave us a peace that God would carry us no matter what the future held.
Even our time at home with hospice at the end of Jimmy’s life was full of blessings. We are were both rabid football fans and took tailgating very seriously. Although he was unable to walk and confined to the bed, Jimmy was lucid and sassy right up to the end. He orchestrated tailgate parties for the final games of Clemson’s 2018 season to include the Clemson/Carolina game and the Cotton Bowl. As he could not do all of the cooking that he normally did, he sent family members all over town to get the necessary elements for each watch party. He was especially focused on the National Championship game on January 7th and was determined to watch that game. He was able to see is beloved Tigers soundly defeat Alabama and peacefully transitioned at 6am the following morning. People constantly wondered what he was waiting for and now we know – he wanted to go to heaven with bragging rights.
My hope is that anyone touched by cancer, either with a direct diagnosis or the diagnosis of a loved one, will remain hopeful. Cancer does not have to be a death sentence. The medical world is making new breakthroughs for all cancers constantly. I have seen firsthand the impact of a positive attitude; I believe it contributed to additional time for both my husband and my mother. Also, being able to ask for help from others is a real blessing to both those asking and those providing the assistance. You don’t have to face this journey alone and you should not; the support of family and friends is good medicine in and of itself.
I believe that any of us touched by cancer become survivors and love that the Cancer Survivors Park staff and leadership share that belief. Jimmy and Mom survived brutal treatments, multiple surgeries, the realization of physical limitations, and the acceptance that life was not going to be what they both had imagined. My Dad and I, along with our friends and families, endured years of stress and heartbreak, became experienced caregivers, and had to helplessly watch the suffering of those we so loved. Then we had to learn how to live life without them. I think that qualifies all of us as survivors!
Jimmy and Mom did not want to be defined by cancer. I don’t want to be either. It is part of life, just as the grief and pain that cancer sometimes brings, but I refuse to let it identify me. Everyday is filled with beauty and joy. I think now I see that beauty and joy differently and appreciate everyday more than I ever have! The song “Home” by Chris Tomlin brings me great peace and is a consistent reminder that my loved ones are exactly where they want to be.
Story by Laura Brasington
Photo by Sliced Tomato Productions