Real estate agent and retired banker Patsy Martin has been chosen as the tree lighter for the Lights of Love ceremony at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in December. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)
ALBANY — Each year in December, a cancer survivor is chosen to turn up the switch at the ceremonial lighting of the “Lights of Love” tree at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, meant to symbolize hope for the area’s cancer patients.
This year, the tree lighter will be on of Southwest Georgia’s most widely known people _ real estate professional and retired banker Patsy Martin.
“I want it (Lights of Live) to be successful, because all the money goes to the cancer center at Phoebe,” she said. “They have already designated the money and what it is going to … Lights of Love thinks about those in cancer treatment and anything that would improve it.
“(To be picked) as a big obligation, a big responsibility and a tremendous honor.”
Martin’s perspective on life changed last year after several mammograms performed over the course of several months and a follow-up ultrasound ultimately revealed breast cancer.
“The mammograms were showing tissue that looked different in one of my breasts,” she said. “After the seventh (mammogram), they did an ultrasound and cancer showed up on my right breast.”
The mass measured roughly three centimeters. Consulations with the tumor board at the Phoebe Cancer Center recommended a lumpcetomy with radiation as the best course of treatment for Martin. Several days later, she got a phone call saying the tumor turned out to be larger than anticipated — so she ended up having a bilateral mascetomy.
A later blood test done showed that her markers were low enough for her to be able to forego chemotherapy and take a pill everyday for the next five years. Since then, the markers on all of her follow-up tests have remained low.
All things considered, a cancer diagnosis was the last thing she expected.
“I had no family history and I walked two miles a day,” Martin said. “I had an OB-GYN check-up two weeks before and I got a clean bill of health.
“By the seventh time (doing a mammogram), you are concerned.”
Within six weeks after her surgery, she was working half days at the office. During the course of her battle, she received support in the form of meals and prayer vigils. Her family includes two children and four grandchildren, who maintained their since of humor about the situation.
The support, however, did little to erase the memory of how the news first hit her.
“I was traumatized,” Martin said. “I lost 10 pounds between the ultrasound (and the surgery). I lost my appetite.”
Following her diagnosis, she found that the people who could best communicate with her were those who had been through similar situations. She had acquaintances come out of the woodwork she didn’t realize even had cancer. Now with the worst of it behind her, she said she feels an obligation to make herself available to women who find themselves in the same place.
“If you have just been diagnosed with breast cancer, give me a call and I will share my journey,” Martin said.
Like many who have been in her boat, she has learned to appreciate the little things more.
“Life is precious,” she said. “Don’t worry about what’s going to happen. Don’t get caught up on tomorrow and focus instead on today.
“Appreciate those in your life. Things don’t matter as much.”
The tree lighting ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. on Dec. 9 at Phoebe’s main campus. Each year since 1983, Christmas lights representing donations to Phoebe’s cancer services have burned on the “Lights of Love” Christmas tree in front of the hospital. Proceeds from the Junior Woman’s Club of Albany’s holiday project provide special services for patients and families dealing with the effects of cancer.
For a monetary contribution, a symbolic light in honor or in memory of a special someone is placed on the tree. The gifts are acknowledged and donors receive an invitation to attend the tree lighting ceremony, usually held in early December.
Facts on the Phoebe Foundation website show that Lights of Love was the first public fund raising event in the hospital’s history when it was introduced. Approximately 1,200 lights were used for the first tree lighting, an event for which more than $16,800 was contributed.
Since its inception, donations for Lights of Love have passed the $1 million mark.