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2021 Lights of Love Phoebe Cancer Center Albany Campus

Help brighten the lives of cancer patients throughout Southwest Georgia

2021 Tree Lighters, Phoebe Cancer Center - Albany, Kara & Sam Shugart

Live Tree Lighting Ceremony: Thursday, December 2, 2021 @ 7 p.m.

You can also view on facebook live at 7:00pm at https://www.facebook.com/PhoebePutney or
https://www.facebook.com/PhoebeFoundation

Albany native Sam Shugart knows a thing or two about the power of relationships.

Not only have they been key to building a successful business, but in recent years those time-forged connections have been responsible for saving not just his life, but that of his wife Kara as well.

As one of the founders of local cancer support non-profit, Cancer Ties some 15 years ago, Sam was well-acquainted with Phoebe’s world class cancer team. But it was still a shock when he found himself truly needing that expertise following a 2017 Stage 4 Tonsillar cancer diagnosis.

“I had a mass on my neck,” Sam explained. “I went to a doctor. They tested, tested, tested, tested and said, ‘It’s absolutely not cancer.’”

Turns out they were wrong.  

“Within an hour I was sitting in front of Chuck Mendenhall, who’s one of the great oncologists, and he’s like, ‘There’s no doubt about it, you’ve got a tumor on your right side somewhere. We just got to figure it out.’ It was obvious it was cancer.”

And as far as Sam was concerned, so were his next steps.

“I could’ve gone to probably any oncology department in the country, possibly the world,” Sam said. “And I vetted and vetted and researched and here’s the deal: at Phoebe Putney, if you’ve got cancer, you’re in the right building. We have an awesome cancer center.

“God’s been watching over us.”

And part of that blessing, Sam contends, comes in the form of the people we meet along our journey. And never has it been more apparent to him than it has in the past few years.

Not only was he the direct beneficiary of having personal relationships with folks like Dr. Mendenhall and countless other doctors, nurses and medical professionals, but as it turns out, so was Kara, herself an important force Sam credits with helping him through his diagnosis and treatment.

Sam said he had only met the recently-returned to Albany Kara a few months before he was diagnosed, and following that he, frankly, told her he would totally understand if she went a different direction, not wanting to deal with a new boyfriend suddenly battling cancer.

I told her, ‘I don’t blame you if you walk,’” Sam recalled. “And of course, she did the exact polar opposite and was an incredible caregiver. It was just awesome.”

Once Kara and the cancer team had Sam shepherded through his cancer treatments to a clean bill of health—no small feat with stage 4 cancer—the pair planned to get married in early 2020.

 But again, fate had other plans as the Covid pandemic began to blanket the community and country,  and then Kara was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall.

Fortunately, Sam knew just what to do and within days, Kara was beginning an intense treatment regimen that would ultimately include chemotherapy, cold-cap therapy and a double mastectomy.

“I’ve got a team,” Sam said. “I’ve got Chirag Jani who is also now a very dear friend, my neighbor, and just a great guy. I mean Chuck Mendenhall, he’s what I call my team leader for radiation, and then Dr. Adam Jones and Dr. Jay McAfee, the young guns; they’re awesome.”

While both Sam and Kara feel blessed to have had such strong ties to area medical experts, they both agree that at the end of the day, the level of care they received from Phoebe Cancer team is something the group provides to any patient.

“As far as having everybody’s phone numbers, I felt like the doctors gave them out to any and everybody,” Kara said. “They genuinely care about people.”

“Yeah,” added Sam. “They don’t have any God complex. Chirag Jani, if he thinks you can get better care—not that you could get better care—he would have you look around to be sure. It’s your body, it’s your life. He understands that.”

In fact, Kara said Dr. Jani did, in fact, encourage her to talk to other oncologists and even helped facilitate a consult with a colleague.

“Dr. Jani recommended that I have a call with Emory just because he wanted me to have that option,” Kara continued. “We’re sitting in the exam room and he’s calling her on the phone and the next day I’ve got an appointment.’

“So, everything from Phoebe has just been amazing.”

And because of the incredible care and love they received, both said it was an easy decision to agree to be this year’s Phoebe Foundation Lights of Love tree lighters.

As Sam sees it, this provides yet another opportunity to give back and help others, much as he did following his own cancer treatments, where he was a fixture at the oncology center singing the praises of the staff and encouraging other patients with his positive outlook.

“I told Mendenhall and Jani, ‘If you all save my life, I will become the biggest cheerleader for Phoebe Cancer Center period,’” Sam said. “And they refer people to me, especially with head and neck cancer because, again, I’m kind of a miracle patient, and I’m the optimist from hell. I like to cheer these people up. I don’t tell them everything they’re fixing to go through, but I don’t lie to them. I encourage.

And the same goes for Kara, who despite having completed her primary chemo treatments, still has to take infusions every three weeks due to her aggressive form of cancer.

“I had no experience, no opinion whatsoever (about Phoebe) until Sam was diagnosed and then going through his treatment,” Kara said. “By the time I was diagnosed, I knew all these people and thought the world of them. We’ve been blessed.”

Finally married, Sam and Kara are both well on the road to recovery and feel blessed, not only to have made it through such difficult times while strengthening their own bond, but in knowing that they now have an opportunity to build new relationships with others who need the kind of love and support that was so readily available to them.