Local Survivors and Volunteers

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Navita Gunter

Hello my name's Navita Gunter. I'm a nine year cervical cancer survivor and the founder of the Cervical Cancer Coalition of Tennessee. When I first started my journey, I had no idea where it would take me. Cancer was my enemy, and I knew I felt I could defeat it.


Cervical cancer grows from the HPV Virus and a woman can be infect for years and not know the virus is inside her body. It's only with a PAP Test that a women can be found tohave cervical cancer. Now more about HPV which is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Human papillomavirus is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different strains or types. More than 30 of these viruses are sexually transmitted, and they can infect the genital area of men and women including the skin of the penis, vulva (area outside the vagina), or anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix, or rectum.


Getting back to my story I had in fact enough going on in my life as a single mother working not one but two jobs! Also, I was dealing with other illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure that were just as life changing as the cancer. I wasn't warned about the psychological and physical impact of cancer. Every unknown pain made me fear the return of this deadly disease.


After enduring the battle, I felt other women needed support from someone who knew what they would encounter if they became diagnosed with cervical cancer. I knew something had to be done. Starting a coalition wasn't one of my goals, but I organized the first ever cervical cancer coalition in Tennessee. My aim was to try and raise awareness about this type of cancer. Here are some major events which I achieved.


My determination took me to Washington D.C. to participate in a government group(Women in Government against cervical cancer) that formed to bring awareness and information to the nation about cervical cancer. Women's lives would be saved! I wouldn't have imagined that I would become a member of this cancer task force. Tennessee's Governor, Phil Bredenson created this task force to find ways to defeat cervical cancer in the state of Tennessee.


Soon after, the Lance Armstrong Foundation interviewed me to share my survival story. I wanted other women and their families to hear my story and gain some hope. They had to know that they could prevail when fighting cancer. This short documentary was published on the foundation's website and also on youtube.


Later, I partnered with the Witness Project of Davidson County to help educate the women of Davidson about breast and cervical cancer. This organization reached over 300 Davidson County families by giving programs in church's and civic center's and even at the work place.


Now, I write about cancer and living with hope to reach many people. Regardless of your race, economic status or education, cancer can invade a person's life. Someone's mother, daughter, sister or friend is experiencing this as I write this article. I want that number to drop and enable women to just focus on being healthy.


Cancer became a priority health concern for me, but I never let it overtake my life or defeat my faith. Today, I'm thriving not simply surviving. With my shield of faith and knowledge, I'm ready to help many women to fight to battle of cervical cancer.


There's a HPV vaccine that was created by Gardasil, the first vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer, abnormal and precancerous cervical lesions, abnormal and precancerous vaginal and vulvar lesions and genital warts. Gardasil is a recombinant vaccine and is effective against HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18, and is approved for use in females ages 9-26 years. With this shot, females in the future won't have to endure the radiation, surgery and other means to remove the cancer. It may also open the door to other treatments against other forms of cancer.


Then, one day another woman can say, "Hello my name is Sally. I've never had cervical cancer."


Navita Gunter can be reached for speaking engagements through the Cervical Cancer Coalition of Tennessee phone: 615-485-5069. The coalition is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization.


To donate to the Cervical Cancer Coalition of Tennessee, visit The Community Foundation www.givingmatters.com . Also, you may mail your contribution to:


Cervical Cancer Coalition of Tennessee
P.O. BOX 282157
Nashville, TN 37228

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JJ Catrone

Hello. My name is JJ Catrone and I would like to take this time to share my story with you.  One year ago, this past memorial day my family unfortunately lost my Mother to Breast Cancer.


It's ironic how every day you hear about Cancer and how it affects others but you don't really stop and take a look around until it personally affects you. My Mother was a small,quiet woman who never complained about anything. She was employed in the Medical field as a Registered Nurse and always put others first before herself. When she was first diagnosed, she kept it to herself because she didn't want to upset anyone. Go figure! When the time came and she told the family she looked at everyone and said  "What I am about to tell you is not going to be easy but, this is how it is." As she told us what was going on, a somber feeling came across the room and her reply to us was, "Ok, now lets go out to dinner." That was just how she was, no matter how bad the situation she always stayed in good spirits. As it progressed, through all the treatments and medications, no matter how Ill she was She still pressed on for the cause. She organized many fundraisers, raised thousands of dollars for breast cancer research, And through all of that never once complained about how much pain, and how sick she was. If that isn't enough inspiration and drive to do what you can for the cause, I don't know what is.


In her last days, her last hours she challenged me to to keep fighting and supporting her cause and I promised her that I would, and I have. Shortly after her death, I founded an organization called "Bands 4 Boobs". We teamed up with Keep A Breast Foundation which targets the younger people and so far has been successful.  I know it doesn't seem like much, but it is the least I and we can do for the women who are fighting the battle, and for those who have already lost to this horrible disease. I may never see a cure in my life time, but I will not stop doing what I can to help. I owe it to my mother, your mother, your sister, etc. In closing, I encourage all of you to do & give what you can to this cause life is too short, why not try and make a difference. To my Mother, you are my hero, you were my best friend, and I love and miss you dearly.


Kindest regards to all,   JJ Catrone

Emmit Martin

A local, middle Tennessee resident shares his recent experience of becoming a bone marrow donor.


What made you decide to get involved with marrow donation/blood cancers?
After 9/11. Like most Americans I really wanted to do something different in life. I wanted to help others and make a difference. I knew I could not join the army so I went in search for another way. I had decided to donate a kidney but was talked out of it and realized that yeah, that was too drastic. While I was at the orientation for the kidney donation, the doc told me about bone marrow donations and I did some research on it.


I then went online and signed up. Over the next 10 years I got called about every 2 years with a possible match and gave lots of blood in the process. In April of this year they finally matched me and I did it.


What was the bone marrow process like?
When they called me with a possible match, I started to give a lot of blood and to do further test. Once they did a 100% match, it was exciting and I couldn't believe I had gotten matched. There were lots of doc visits and blood drawn. The operation was postponed due to the lady getting sick. It was supposed to take place in April but they wanted to try again in June so we set it for June 16th and just hoped the patient would be well enough.


The Bone Marrow program nurses were very nice and did lots of education with me and follow ups calls.


The operation itself took 3 hours. I was in TONS of pain that week and by week two was able to walk around but in pain. I was back to almost normal by 6 weeks. I still cannot run but I can do most anything else.


What have you learned from the process? Or in what ways has it inspired you?
I learned how simple it is to literally save a person life. It has inspired me like nothing else to do even more, which is why I am now working on the National Cancer Awareness Day Foundation that I created. I want to help all the cancer organizations to work together and create awareness. I also want to help the Bone Marrow program grow and create a national Bone Marrow drive day. I’m really motivated to help in any way I can. I would defiantly donate bone marrow again and again and again.


Do you have any information for people who would like to get involved in marrow donation?
YES they can go to www.marrow.org and sign up to be a donor. You don't even have to have surgery anymore. I can do it by giving blood.


More Information and Resources on Bone Marrow Donation:
For more information and resources on bone marrow donation, email help@bmtinfonet.org or visit www.bmtinfonet.org and www.lls.org, or contact the Tennessee Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Current advances in bone marrow donation offer non-surgical, more pain-free procedures for donors. Learn about facts and myths from the National Marrow Donor Program.

Dan McCollum – Prostate Cancer Survivor and Advocate

By Franklin DeFelice


After surviving prostate cancer, Dan McCollum has taken the fight against this disease from a personal struggle to fighting for patients throughout Tennessee. McCollum successfully underwent surgery for his cancer five years ago, and is thankfully cancer free to this day.


McCollum was motivated by his experience to shed more light on this disease. McCollum started a non-profit organization, The Prostate Cancer Coalition of Tennessee, to help educate men and women across the state about the importance of early detection and the variety of treatment options available.


In response to efforts led by McCollum, Governor Bredesen proclaimed September 2008 to be Prostate Cancer Awareness month in Tennessee. This is a victory for prostate cancer advocates who have longed tried to bring the disease out of obscurity and into the spotlight. Bringing awareness to prostate cancer is crucial in that early detection of the disease is extremely important in treating and eventually surviving the disease.


Following the lead of courageous individuals such as Dan McCollum, men and those that support them can fight this disease until it is a thing of the past.


For more information about the Prostate Cancer Coalition of Tennessee, contact Dan McCollum at danmccollum@pcctn.org


See also:
Fight Club - Winning his own bout with prostate cancer wasn’t enough for Dan McCollum. He wants to knock out the disease once and for all.

Sigourney Cheek, author of Patient Siggy

Watch CanConnect's interview and video with Nashville cancer survivor Sigourney Cheek, author of Patient Siggy.


For more about Patient Siggy:

  • Click here to for the mp3 of an interview about Patient Siggy by John Seigenthaler on Nashville Public Television's A Word on Words. (February 24, 2008).
  • Click here for an interview with Sigourney Cheek on Newschannel5's Plus Side of Nashville (scroll down to find the video)
  • www.patientsiggy.com
  • Meet the author of Patient Siggy at Gilda's Club Nashville on September 30, 2008.
Video Link: 

Paula A. Smith

Paula A. Smith
Year of Diagnosis: 1998
Age at Diagnosis: 51 years

Caring for those in need, especially the elderly requires patience. Not everybody has the time or interest. Not everybody has the temperament to slow down and wait on those in need. That takes a special kind of person, one whose faith is fashioned in patience. Fortunately, there are still folks who do not mind taking time to care. Folks like Paula A. Smith, diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998 at the age of fifty-one.

Paula could have easily let breast cancer overwhelm her. Yet, those years of doing for others taught Paula something about waiting. Waiting is not the same thing as doing nothing. Waiting is about knowing who is really in charge. Waiting is about yielding to the Lord to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Paula’s waiting is what has seen her through 9 years of survival. For Paula patiently waiting is a way of life. Patience is what her faith is fashioned from through breast cancer and beyond.

“Wait on the Lord and be of good courage and he will strengthen thine heart, wait, I say wait on the Lord.” (Psalms 27:14)


See Paula's story in the 2008-2009 Fashioned in Faith Calendar

Marsha K. Bullock

Marsha K. Bullock
Year of Diagnosis: 1992
Age at Diagnosis: 31 years

In your thirties you are just starting to figure life out. There are careers to advance, relationships to build and families to nurture. At this point, you are just getting started. The last thing on your mind is breast cancer. Yet in 1992, at the tender age of thirty-one, Marsha K. Bullock had to think about breast cancer in the midst of being a young woman. And no, every day was not a breeze thereafter. Life never is.

What got Marsha through the tough times? It was her faith. Her faith affirmed, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13). Faith was her anchor. That was then. Thankfully, there is a now.

A vibrant fifteen year (and counting) breast cancer survivor, Marsha lives life to the fullest reading and spending time with her family. Having emerged a stronger and more confident woman, Marsha’s faith has been fashioned anew because of what she has gone through. Marsha’s faith has given way to hope. Hope that lives for today and eagerly looks forward to tomorrow.

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Romans 8:25)


See Marha's story in the 2008-2009 Fashioned in Faith Calendar

Jarrett Stein

Jarrett Stein
Cancer Survivor
Age 14 at diagnosis, now 19
Nashville, TN

I know that I benefited from the experiences of children who were treated before me, because my protocol was the result of clinical trials that other children enrolled in. As a way to honor those children and help others in the future, I am trying to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer research, for cures and less toxic treatments, and for survivorship programs. That is why I go to Washington to speak with representatives from Tennessee, that is why I share strategies that worked for me with other teens, and that is why I am sharing my story here.

After having cancer, I now realize what is important to me and what is not and when I am being true to myself and when I am not. Although it may seem that sometimes we are given too many choices and sometimes we are given too few, for me it is the understanding that it is not only the choices I am given, but the ones I create on my own that will mold who I am and who I become.



Lynne Cargen

Lynne Cargen
Breast cancer survivor
Nashville, TN
Age 39 at diagnosis, 51 now


At 29 I joked with my OB/GYN about not knowing if I would have cancer because my breasts were so lumpy. I had a baseline mammogram at 30 which, looking back, I know saved my life. Five years later I had microcalicifactions and 30% of all DCIS cases will develop into cancer. DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) sits there inactive in many women but mine became cancerous. In spite of the great care I received in Nashville, I was still unprepared for cancer at age 39. After the bilateral mastectomy, 10 years ago, I sat in the hospital waiting for information of what to do now but none came. After reconstruction the nurse in my plastic surgeon’s office gave me the help I needed for getting connected with support groups and being an advocate for cancer education and research. Support group was tremendous. I am so thankful for the experience I had, so fortunate for the care I received.

“I’m a research advocate to help educate communities about the necessities of research and clinical trials. Think before you pink. We cannot be complacent. Pink ribbons made us aware but awareness doesn’t bring the cure. We must go beyond the pink ribbon.”


See Lynne's profile in the Tennessee Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition's 2009-2012 State Plan

Ron Obenauf

Ron Obenauf - Shelbyville, TN

Diagnosed in April 2003 at age 52

“I’m an advocate for clinical trials, the cure for cancer will come through them.”
“Fight through by preventing. Get the screening at age 50. The cure rate for colon cancer is 98% if caught in the early stages. If you have a family history, then get the screenings earlier.”


Ron's video on being an advocate - Part 1

Ron's video on being an advocate - Part 2


  • See Ron's profile in the Tennessee Comprehensive Cancer Control Coalition's 2009-2012 State Plan
Video Link: