The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

City Sluggers go to bat for fellow workers

Seward Polar Bear Jumpoff Festival


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

Deputy City Clerk Brenda Ballou, a new breast cancer survivor, is pleased to be honored by co-workers taking the 2012 Polar Bear Plunge, and for their help raising money for research and for Kenai Peninsula children with cancer.

It takes courage to plunge into the freezing waters of Resurrection Bay, even if just for a fraction of a minute, and you also have to have heart. That’s definitely what a group of women who work at City Hall have. The City Sluggers team, whose theme is “Save Second Base,” will dress as baseball players Saturday as they take the plunge in honor of their fellow workers who are fighting cancer.

“I am terrified,” is how new jumper Nancy Perrea who works in Accounting puts it. But it’s nothing like the courage that those fighting cancer must have,” she said. “I know the end of the story when I jump, that I’ll get out and I’ll be fine. But people fighting cancer don’t know what lies ahead.”

Perrea, and Utility Clerk Tarrah Beals, another new jumper on the team, join seasoned plungers Suzi Towsley, Maggie Wilkins and Jennile Regis, provided that they can all raise the required pledge amount. They’re inspired by the grace and courage with which they see Deputy City Clerk Brenda Ballou, and Debbie Yanaz, a Deputy Clerk with the State of Alaska District Court, handling their disease. Both Ballou, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and Yanaz, who is fighting ovarian/abdominal cancer and lupus, are continuing to work between their chemotherapy treatments and surgeries.

Brenda Ballou, who is entering the anniversary of her first year on the job, can’t believe how very caring and supportive her partner Joe Allen, and her coworkers have been since she first discovered the lump in her left breast in mid-September. They have donated their annual leave time (paid vacation time) so she can go to in for surgery and chemotherapy treatments, and recover from them without losing her paycheck. Her boss, Johanna, and assistant clerk Nancy regularly encourage Brenda to get her rest, and frequently reassure her that they can manage the office in her absence.

“I come in to work and I can’t tell you how many times somebody tells you, ‘I’m so glad to see you, that you’re back here today.’ The support has been amazing, overwelming, it just is really cool, and that makes me feel really blessed. I’m just a very lucky girl.”

Following the tumor’s removal, she was informed that surgeons had been able to remove all of the cancer, and that none had gotten into her lymph nodes. With a self-breast exam, she had found the lump relatively early. Nevertheless, Ballou was informed that cancer could reappear elsewhere in her body because of having taken extensive infertility treatments. So as a precaution, Ballou is undergoing chemotherapy treatments every three weeks. She also had double mastectomy to rid herself of the worry of the cancer returning in either breast, and has begun preparing for re-constructive surgery. Prior to her first treatment, she cut off her hair and donated it to “Locks of Love.”

“I don’t feel sorry for myself, I really feel very lucky, honest to God, compared to what it could be,” Ballou said. She will be going in for her second chemotherapy treatment this week, and is hoping to feel well enough to watch the Plunge Saturday afternoon. “I’m hoping to be there, it just depends on how I feel. Having, never gone through this, you never know.” Meanwhile, she’s taking her treatment one step at a time, doing whatever must be done, and trying not to think too far into what the future might hold.

“I’ve had a couple meltdowns, like one day I had to pick up six different prescriptions, and I picked them up at Safeway, and put them on the counter, all of these bottles of medicine, and I totally had a meltdown that night. But then you just keep going.” But most of all, she sympathizes for those she has met whose condition are so much worse than hers. She and Debbie Yanez, who works just one floor above in the state clerk’s office, check in with one another frequently, and share stories.

Yanez, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in September while in the hospital for lupus, feels similarly blessed to have a strong support system of family friends, neighbors and coworkers to help boost her spirits. Her neighbors plow her driveway, her friends and church family pray for her and offer to help, and her family members, especially those who live here such as her mother, and sister Kris Erchinger, drive her to Anchorage for weekly chemotherapy treatments, and continue to give her “the royal treatment” as she recuperates. Elaine Bublitz, her boss, also has been extremely supportive, encouraging Debbie to take all the time she needs, whether she has to come in to work a little later, or leave early if she’s not feeling up to the job.

But these days, Yanez seems most grateful perhaps for having been brought together with Anchorage-based Oncologist Steven Liu, in whose hands she feels secure and well cared for. Unlike the physician who first broke the awful news of her condition to her in a blunt, unsympathetic way, and informed her that the best she could hope for was remission, Liu is a very loving, caring, compassionate man who promised to do all he could, and to focus on curing her disease, Yanez said. He has phoned her in the evenings to discuss her test results, and keeps in close contact with family members and the professionals who care for her here in Seward regarding all the details of her condition and care.

Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

Nancy Perrea and Tarrah Beals plan to join the City Sluggers team in taking the Polar Bear Plunge this year on behalf of fellow city hall workers.

“If everyone had a doctor like him I think there would be a lot less stress and fear and frustration with the disease because he just takes very good care with his patients,” Yanez said.

Her sister Kris, and others are amazed how Debbie can remain so positive despite all she is going through. She tells them, “It’s just wonderful. I feel like I’m surrounded by love. When you feel that way, you can put up with almost anything, and knowing that God has a hand in it and is taking care of me, I really feel that God has put the right group of people together for me.”

Yanez seemed pleased and a little surprised to learn that the city team would be taking the Polar Bear Plunge in her and Brenda’s honor. “There’s a lot of good people out there,” Debbie said. “I would not do that. I can’t stand to be cold!”


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