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Lanier resident and cancer survivor starts business to fight the disease


By Pamela A. Keene

A message left on her answering machine 11 years ago changed Sue Sigmon-Nosach’s life forever. “You have ovarian cancer and six months at best to live,” the recorded voice from her doctor’s office announced. “You should get your affairs in order. There’s not a whole lot we can do.”

Today, Sigmon-Nosach is an 11-year ovarian cancer survivor, almost an anomaly in the world of gynecological cancers that silently kill more than 26,500 women each year of the nearly 71,500 who are diagnosed. She and her husband Mike, a retired residential builder, live in Murrayville on Lake Lanier.

“The survival rate for five years or longer is only about 25 percent, if it’s diagnosed in Stage 3, the most common level of diagnosis. If these cancers are caught early, in Stage 1 for instance, the survival rate can be as high as 80 to 90 percent,” she said. “Gynecological cancers are often overlooked or misdiagnosed because the symptoms are different for every woman. In the past 50 years, no new drugs have been developed to treat it, and in the past 25 years, no new tests have been developed to detect it. It’s more than time to raise awareness for these silent killers, and I hope that one day we will have as much respect and attention as the fight against breast cancer.”

Sigmon-Nosach is among the fortunate few as a long-time survivor. She wears teal every day – the official color for ovarian cancer – and spends her waking hours working to raise awareness and develop financial assistance for gynecological cancer patients across Northeast Georgia. But, as she puts it, “God wasn’t ready to take me then; he still had things for me to do.” Those things include helping patients with gynecological cancers through the stressful times of treatment, including chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, not by holding their hands but by providing them with financial assistance for their expenses of daily living.

In 2011, she and her late art partner and good friend Debbie Torbett, another victim of ovarian cancer, created 2 Broken Broads, making three-dimensional mosaic windows from broken glass bottles, bowls, plates and other items, and selling them at art shows. Sold primarily through weekend arts and crafts shows, more than 350 pieces have been sold in more than 35 states in the past five years. Each piece, inspired by popular songs from the ´50s, ´60s and ´70s, includes a small teal-blue ovarian cancer ribbon among the shards of glass. A portion of the proceeds from each sale is donated to the cause: The Partnership for Gynecological Cancer Support, which the two founded in 2013 as a Georgia non-profit, with the vision of making an even more significant impact on the lives of gynecological cancer patients.

The organization collaborates with area healthcare entities across North Georgia, including the medical practice of Andrew Green, M.D., one of the nation’s foremost gynecological oncologists, as well as Northeast Georgia Health System and Northside Hospital Cancer Institute. From these connections, the partnership identifies gynecological patients who may need a bit of financial assistance during their treatment.

“Imagine that you’ve been diagnosed with a deadly disease and you can’t continue your job, take care of your family or even pay for groceries and household expenses,” Sigmon-Nosach said. “Going through this journey is difficult enough, stressful enough, that worrying about how you’re going to pay your electric bill or make a house payment is probably the least of your worries. But in treatment, any additional stress can make your chances of survival much less likely.”

The group has some financial support from Northeast Georgia Health System and Northside Hospital, but the majority of funds come from private donations and fund-raisers. Each fall, the partnership hosts “A Broad’s Brush: The Art of Survivors” in Gainesville. The first year the event was held in a private home by invitation only and through donations, sales of art by area artists touched in some way by gynecological cancers, and both silent and live auctions. More than $17,000 was raised.

Last year, 2014 was a banner year for the partnership. It was chosen as the recipient of all the proceeds from First Baptist Church of Gainesville’s annual arts event, Hearts and Hands Emporium, on the third weekend of September. “This was quite an honor and a major boost for us for being the young organization we are,” she said. “September – which is ovarian cancer awareness month – was a whirlwind in a good way. Also, 2 Broken Broads participated in several art shows in North Georgia, including Gainesville’s Art in the Square. We hosted our annual A Broad’s Brush the next week, this time working with the Quinlan Visual Arts Center and raising more than $47,000 on that Sunday afternoon.

But 2014 was also a year of sadness. In January, Sue’s long-time friend, fellow ovarian cancer patient and art partner Debbie Torbett, 64, succumbed to the disease after a nine-year fight and 130 rounds of chemo. “It was such a hard loss for all of us, including her husband Ken, who continues to be a staunch supporter and very involved in the work of the partnership,” Sigmon-Nosach said. “And while all these wonderful things were coming together for the partnership, we saw some of our dearest friends pass on from this deadly disease.”

This year, A Broad’s Brush takes place on Sunday, September 27, at the Quinlan. Plans have been under way for months with a volunteer committee. The group is seeking sponsors, gathering items for the silent and live auctions – including some international vacations – and lining up the nearly 20 artists who will participate. Sigmon-Nosach is already at work on this year’s signature mosaic window, a multi-dimensional face based on the song, “If You Could Read My Mind.” It will be sold by limited-participation raffle.

“For the first time, we’re opening the event to the public, and we’re charging a small admission,” she said. “It will be catered with hors d’oeuvres and beverages, and we’ll be limited to 300 people, so we’re urging people to register in advance. Of course, we are seeking sponsors and additional items for our auctions. Our goal is to raise at least $100,000 through the event.”

Sigmon-Nosach, her volunteer board of directors – many of whom are business executives and committed community activists who have been touched by gynecological cancers – continues to carry on with awareness programs, fund-raising and outreach. In 2013, the group assisted 32 gynecological cancer patients with grants for their living expenses. In 2014, that number increased to 154 people.

Already in the first six months of 2015, the partnership has helped 113, on track to assist 250 this year. “Our beneficiaries come to us through patient navigators working with our health care partners,” she says. “So many of these women don’t even realize there’s assistance out there, and many are too proud and private to ask, but it’s a need we can fill. It’s important to help them know that there’s a little financial relief out there as they go through this journey.”

Sigmon-Nosach looks back on her 11-year journey and how her life has radically changed. She credits the support of her husband Mike with his ongoing support. The couple leads a fairly quiet and low-key life, except when it comes to working to raise awareness for the “unspeakable women’s cancers that are the deadliest silent killers.”

“When I was diagnosed 11 years ago, my journey was just beginning. I ended up with a ruptured colon from sepsis after my surgery, was in a coma, and spent 45 days in the hospital, then I had to undergo chemo,” she said. “I lost my business in corporate gifts and it took more than three years to battle back. I figure that I lived for a reason.”

About the organization
  • Founded: The Partnership for Gynecological Cancer Support was founded in 2013
  • Community contribution: Provided financial assistance to more than 300 women gynecological cancer patients across North Georgia in the past three years.
  • Mission: The mission of the Partnership for Gynecological Cancer Support, a Georgia 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, is to provide financial assistance for daily non-insured expenses for women cur rently being treated for a gynecological cancer in Northeast Georgia. All donations are tax-deductible.
  • Website: www.supportgc.org
  • Phone: 770-406-3406
  • How you can help: Contact the partnership through its website tobecome a sponsor or a volunteer.

Posted online 7/31/15

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