April 18, 2017

Honors for Man & Woman for fighting blood cancer

Nadine Baxter, president of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society board, lost her mother to acute myeloblastic leukemia within three days of her diagnosis in 2013. Baxter is gearing up for the society’s Man & Woman of the Year Grand Finale Celebration, to be held Friday.

Nadine Baxter, president of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society board, lost her mother to acute myeloblastic leukemia within three days of her diagnosis in 2013. Baxter is gearing up for the society’s Man & Woman of the Year Grand Finale Celebration, to be held Friday.

Nadine Baxter has spent the last 17 of her 40 years as a nurse practitioner working with blood-cancer patients, specifically those with myeloma.

Four years ago, blood cancer hit home. Hard and fast.

“My mother developed a cough, and we didn’t know what the problem was,” Baxter recalls. She took her to a pulmonologist, and her mother had perfect lab results. That was Valentine’s Day 2013. Another round of tests less than a month later showed she was anemic.

Baxter’s mother was diagnosed with acute myeloblastic leukemia, and died within three days of her diagnosis. “Being a nurse in the middle of it, and taking care of so many patients — it was very difficult for me,” Baxter says.

Shortly thereafter, Baxter was presented with a chance to keep her mother’s legacy alive. Her daughter, Devin Henson, found out about Light the Night, a fall fundraising walk for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Henson asked Baxter if she thought the event would be “a good way to honor Nana.” Baxter agreed that it would be.

Then Baxter met Kim DuPas, manager of the society’s Arkansas division, which opened the door to participation in another society-sponsored event — the Man & Woman of the Year. Baxter captured the title in 2015 and has been involved with Man & Woman of the Year ever since.

The competition’s 2017 Grand Finale Celebration is set for Friday at the Embassy Suites Little Rock. Candidates are Jill Avery with Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System; Dow Brantley of Brantley Farming Co.; Jennifer Fitzgerald; Mike Mueller of P. Allen Smith Cos.; Charles Robbins of Data­Path Inc.; Angela Stewart of the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and Highlands Oncology Group; and Justin Thomas, a student at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Man & Woman of the Year is a national program for the society, taking its fourth turn in Arkansas. Baxter, who raised more than $40,000 the year she won, is now the society’s board president. This year she will be presented the organization’s Legacy Award for “just making a huge footprint for a cure here in Arkansas,” DuPas says.

Blood cancers are the number three cancer killer, according to society information. About 1.2 million people in the United States are living with blood cancer or are in remission from it. All the money raised by the Arkansas division stays in state to provide financial aid to cancer patients who must travel long distances for treatment and need help paying for gasoline, or need insurance assistance. The society also provides group support for these patients.

“A large portion of our money that we raise goes toward research,” DuPas adds. “Our main goal is to find a cure.”

Nominations are taken from all over Arkansas.

“We look for leaders in the community who have been touched by blood cancer and have the capacity to get out there and go through their network and really just give back,” DuPas says. These include cancer patients, health-care professionals who have worked with them or people who have friends or loved ones affected by cancer. They are given 10 weeks to raise money via sponsorships, donation solicitations and hosting fundraising sales and events.

“They truly are all winners. They are all one team working toward a goal,” DuPas says.

In her volunteer capacity with the society, Baxter helps to find Man & Woman of the Year candidates. She has worked to get T-shirts for a candidate, hosted meetings, donated food for a fundraising bake sale and solicited auction items.

“We should pay her,” DuPas says. “It truly would not be what it is today without Nadine.”

The 2017 finale will also include a special appeal featuring the Inspirational Boy and Girl of the Year — young patients who share their stories and motivate candidates throughout the fund drive. This year’s Boy and Girl are Will, who has survived non-Hodgkin’s T-cell lymphoma and acute myeloblastic leukemia; and Addison, an acute lymphoblastic leukemia survivor. The children will go into the audience to pick up donations.

“It’s hard to say no to them,” DuPas says.

The finale celebration — offering silent and live auctions, a dinner program presenting the candidates/winners and a donation drive — was first held at the Clinton Presidential Center but outgrew the space. The proceeds increased, too. Its first year, the society raised around $80,000. Fast forward to 2016, when event proceeds amounted to about $202,000. More than $460,000 has been raised since its inception.

The goal for this year’s campaign is $240,000. Baxter’s dream for the event would be “no less than 20 candidates, and no less than half a million dollars.”

She likes to see patients get immediate aid with the event proceeds.

“People don’t realize that it’s hard — when you have one of these catastrophic disease processes going on — to make ends meet, even if you do have a great deal of money. I’ve said a lot of times we could bankrupt the richest person in the world because it’s so costly.” The society has a $10,000 allotment per year that they’ll give to patients to help them pay their insurance premiums or make co-payments.

But there’s the big picture, too, Baxter adds. “That research is so very vital so that we can completely do away with blood cancers. If I’m unemployed, it’d be fine.”

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society 2017 Man & Woman of the Year Grand Finale Celebration begins at 6 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $100 and are available by contacting Kim DuPas at kim.dupas@lls.org or (501) 227-6416.

High Profile on 04/16/2017