Celebrating life

Published 12:02 am Saturday, April 28, 2012


C rowds swarmed the Kiwanis Center Fairgrounds last night for the annual American Cancer Society’s Covington County Relay for Life celebration.

To “change things up,” chair Alison Tew told the crowd that rather than have a doctor speak on the symptoms and process of cancer, the RFL committee wanted to focus on the caregivers this year.

This year, Dr. Gabrielle Baldwin and her sister Kristi Powell, whose husband, Johnny, died Christmas Day, shared their stories as caregivers.

Baldwin, who is a pediatrician at Covington Pediatrics, said she never dreamed her education in how to care for cancer patients would benefit someone in her family.

“When I went to medical school 15 years ago, I never realized I would minister to someone in my immediate family,” she said.

In 2010, Johnny Powell was ready to celebrate the holiday season with his family but was suddenly hit with mild reflux. By the following Monday, his family began commenting about the yellow color of his skin, which prompted an emergency trip to the doctor.

By the beginning of December, the family got the news it was cancer, and not just any cancer, but a rare form of gallbladder cancer.

“He was 42,” Baldwin said. “When I found out what the tests showed, I knew we were dealing with something major. Then our worst fears were confirmed. It was cancer, a very rare and often silent form until it’s too late.

The prognosis was that treatment would improve Johnny’s quality of life and prolong his time on Earth, but he would not get over it.

“Without treatment, he would have had mere weeks to six months,” she said. “We had him for an additional 12 months.”

Baldwin said it’s difficult for someone to watch his or her family member go through something like that, and it’s difficult for a physician to watch a patient.

“For me, this was doubly heartbreaking,” she said. “I know I cannot intervene and cure everyone, but thanks to Relay a balm is applied. Some only think of the long-term effects, but Relay is more, and not all side benefits are medical related. The time, effort and money the community donates is uplifting. It’s a balm to our soul.

“Thankfully, we are well-grounded in our faith in God,” Baldwin said.

And it’s that faith that took the family through, Kristi Powell said.

“A pastor once told me, from the moment you draw your first breath you are going to die,” she said. “This past year wasn’t the route I thought I’d take, but I’m thankful for the journey. We knew God had a reason. God doesn’t put more on us than we can handle.”

Powell said when you find out your loved one has an illness like cancer there are two things that come in your mind – worry and peace.

“Worry is your head knowledge and peace is your heart knowledge,” she said. “We didn’t worry. We knew God was going to take care of it. Johnny would say, ‘I’m the one with cancer, and I’m not worried. No one else should be either.’”

Powell said that God made it clear to the family that Johnny’s sickness was going to be used for his kingdom.

“Sure, we prayed for complete healing,” she said. “But we also prayed for God’s will to be done. How he chose to heal him was his choice.”

Powell said everyone asked the family how they could be so calm and content.

“God has a plan,” she said. “And Johnny would ­say he was humbled to be part of that plan. The day he died, he got the best Christmas present. He spent Christmas morning with us and he went home to see the Savior.”

Powell recalled the family’s conversation with her children, Jared and Kaleb, about why Johnny chose to have a do not resuscitate order.

“He said where I’m going to, I don’t want to come back,” she said. “And it’s not a question of if we’ll see him again, but when we’ll see him again.”

Money raised from events such as RFL go to help find treatment for all types of cancers including rare forms.

At last count, RFL had raised more than $90,000.