Guide Posts of Strength: Jim Millis Spirit of Competition Award presented to Oscar Blacutt
You may think that GPS means Global Positioning System, but to those diagnosed with cancer, GPS is a navigational system with a very different meaning ... Guide Posts of Strength.
Guide Posts of Strength was the brainchild of Dr. Bernard Chinnasami of Emerywood Hematology/Oncology to help patients “navigate” the journey through the daily challenges of “walking the road” as a cancer patient.
For Dr. Chinnasami, the founding of Guide Posts of Strength was both personal and professional. He explains, “The diagnosis of cancer changes your life in the blink of an eye — not just for you the patient but for your family and friends. I learned it firsthand when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in medical school. It has since been my dream that every patient should have a mentor. I want all cancer patients to be able to access the information they need — information that is meaningful to you and your family and friends. It is with this passion that I have started Guide Posts of Strength, Inc (GPS) where you can now find reliable information about all things cancer related.”
As a fundraiser, GPS, Inc recently held its first tennis tournament, “Serve It, Cancer has met its Match” and a dinner to present the first Jim Millis Spirit of Competition Award. Both Jim, an avid tennis player, and his wife Jesse died of cancer. Chinnasami’s dream of GPS was made a reality through the generosity of Millis’ daughters, Molly Millis-Hedgecock and Emily Millis-Hiatt. Dr. Chinnasami said that, “their commitment to improving the lives of cancer patients is a testament to the courage that defines so many with the disease.”
The dinner was held in the clubhouse at Willow Creek Golf Course. Guests included friends of Jim Millis, including Marsha Slane, David Hayworth, High Point University President Nido & first lady Marianna Qubein and High Point Community Foundation President Paul Lessard. High Point Community Foundation partners with GPS in administrating the foundation. GPS staff in addition to Dr. Chinnasami included Executive Director Cathy Weaver, Director of Creative Expressions Nalina Chinnasami, Director of Marketing and Communications Matt Hambright and Program Director Ellen Winnett. In addition, several of the tennis players involved in the tournament attended, including Dawn & Arthur Bingham, Kelsey Dumoulin, Katie Stoneking, Kim Gay and Debbie Shane.
Guide Posts of Strength community liaison Michael Jones was not able to attend. Jones has been one of my “guide posts of strength” on my husband Stanley’s journey with advanced lung cancer. We first met Jones, a three-time cancer survivor, as Stanley was undergoing chemotherapy at Emerywood Oncology. Jones carried a box of doughnuts in his lap as he easily navigated among the chemotherapy patients with his wheelchair. An offer of a doughnut will put a smile on anyone’s face. We talked and talked that first visit as Stanley was getting his infusion chemo (he is now taking the chemotherapy pill Tarceva). Jones was my introduction to GPS and I always look forward to seeing him. He has an incredible and inspirational story and perhaps someday I can share that with you.
Dr. Chinnasami began the program with a welcome, “How many people want to go on a journey without a GPS? No matter how complicated life may be, a diagnosis of cancer changes lives. The family is as devastated as the patient.” GPS helps with that journey.
At the dinner, Weaver spoke about her own journey with breast cancer under the care of Dr. Chinnasami and the overwhelming realities of cancer, “We sometime ‘fudge’ our feelings to shelter our families so it is important to be able to ‘bare’ your soul to someone.” That someone is now often a GPS mentor as veteran cancer patients are trained to provide support to newly diagnosed cancer patients.
Weaver also shared some great news. Congratulations to Drew Weaver, son of Cathy and her husband Dr. John Weaver. Drew, who won the 2007 British Amateur Golf Championship and Elizabeth Bills, the daughter of Andy and Ann, are being married in December. I know both families are so excited about that.
Here’s more exciting marriage news ... High Point Olympic speed skater Heather Richardson is engaged to Dutch speed skater Jorrit Bergsma. Her mother Pat is the wonderful receptionist at Emerywood Oncology and tells me that the wedding will be after the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. If you want to send Heather an encouraging word, her Olympic training address is: 5421 Beckton Ct., West Valley, Utah 84084. High Point is so proud of her. Let’s let her know.
Now back to the dinner. Guest speaker Karen Isner was diagnosed with colon cancer for the second time in 2007. “Everyone who is diagnosed with cancer is shocked. No one in my family had cancer. That day is a terrifying day in your life. There is fear. There are decisions. If I had a mentor, I cannot tell you how much anxiety it would have relieved. The medical, emotional and financial issues are overwhelming.”
Karen is the mother of 6’ 9” professional tennis player John Isner, whose current world ranking as of last week is No. 19. He has been ranked as high as No. 9 in the world and holds the record for having played (and won) the longest match in Wimbledon history. John was coached for eight years starting at the age of 9 by Oscar Blacutt, director of tennis at High Point Country Club/Willow Creek and former Bolivian Davis Cup member and instructor at Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. Wow! Blacutt was the first recipient of the Jim Millis Spirit of Competition Award.
Karen said, “No one can believe that my son (John Isner is 6’ 9” tall) was taught tennis by a 5’ 6” Bolivian.” She then spoke directly to Blacutt, “You taught my child so many amazing things beside his incredible drop shot” and amusingly added, “I actually have photos when John was shorter than Oscar.”
Before presenting the award with Molly Millis-Hedgecock, Dr. Chinnasami talked about Jim Millis, “His laundry list was amazing. His spirit was amazing. He was more accomplished than most people know.” Others in the room echoed that sentiment. Marsha Slane said, “Jim was always working to make this community better for everyone,” David Hayworth agreed. HPU President Nido Qubein described Jim as a “visionary” amd added, “nothing happened around this town until Jim Millis would get up and say, ‘we will get it done.’ ”
And to that ... the Jim Millis Spirit of Competition Award was presented to Oscar Blacutt!
For more information about GPS visit www.cancergps.org or call 883-4477.
MARY BOGEST is an artist and writer who resides in High Point | MSBogest@aol.com