by Heather Tomlinson
There’s nothing like a good tea party, complete with sweets, sandwiches, and inspiring stories of surviving breast cancer.
Hundreds of people gathered Thursday at The Center for Rural Development as part of the 11th Annual Breast Cancer Symposium, called “The Pink tea, Y’all,” to share stories of their own struggles with the disease — and to show that no one is alone when it comes to a breast cancer diagnosis.
The event has become a calendar mainstay for hundreds of breast cancer survivors and their loved ones, and Thursday’s event held much in the same tradition.
Along with the story of breast cancer survivor and best-selling author Lisa Patton, there were moments of celebration for those survivors who are less than one year past their diagnosis, all the way to those who are going strong 44 years after the dreaded news.
And there were moments of remembrance and honor for those who lost their battle with the disease.
“Every year we come and we laugh and we have a good time,” said Susan Wilson, director of marketing and community relations at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital. “We think about how wonderful it is for us to get together, and all that’s true, but We also want to remember that not everyone wins that fight against breast cancer.”
Tea pots adorned with the names of those who lost the fight were hung on a magnolia tree at the beginning of Thursday’s program in what was the day’s most somber happening.
Memphis, Tenn. native Patton, who’s third novel, Southern as a Second Language, was published this month, gave those in attendance a humorous and insightful look into her life as a single mother of two boys, a best-selling author, and a breast cancer survivor.
Patton’s appearance Thursday was a personal milestone.
“I have never, and I’ve had a public life for the last four or five years as a writer ... but this is the first time I’ve ever stood up publicly and said ‘I’m a breast cancer survivor,’” Patton said, to applause from the audience.
Patton, who recently married, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. Devastated, she kept the news away from her two sons, who were in college and high school, until after she underwent a lumpectomy.
“I wasn’t really afraid of dying,” Patton said. “ ... I was really afraid of leaving my boys.”
Patton had only recently been accepted by a literary agent to publish her first book, Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’Easter, and she was beginning work on her second book, Yankee Doodle Dixie, when she underwent radiation treatments.
But through her bout with breast cancer, and through other difficult times in her life during those years — divorce from her first husband, raising two sons as a single mother, and dealing with the sudden death of a younger sibling — Patton said she never gave up hope that God would see her through.
“I never gave up, and I just took that situation and tried to turn it around and tried to hold on to hope,” said Patton.
Patton has been best friends with Lisa Blakely, the wife of Al Blakely, owner of the local Alton Blakely Family of Dealerships, for more than 50 years. The Blakelys approached Patton to speak at the symposium because of her experience with the disease.
The symposium is sponsored by Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital and the Alton Blakely Family of Dealerships.
“No matter what you do, there is always hope,” Patton said.