Picture this: the sun kissing the horizon, the gentle breeze caressing your hair, the calm of the water as you draw your line. For many, fishing is a treasured escape, a connection with nature, and a chance to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of life. But what if I told you that fishing can also become a lifeline of hope and support for those battling breast cancer?
Starting in 2020, Debbie Bell discovered something extraordinary – the strength within her to fight breast cancer and an organization called Pink Fishing that would play a crucial role in her fight. Debbie’s story is one of resilience, community support, and the transformative power of hope.
It all started when Debbie noticed a lump in her breast. At first, I ignored it, thinking it was just another benign cyst like the ones I’d encountered before. Hoping the problem would resolve itself, I took a break from caffeine, assuming it might be related. However, as six months passed, the lump not only persisted, but became larger and softer, creating an increasing feeling of discomfort.
Debbie has been a dedicated Athens Walmart employee for over 15 years. Little did she know that her workplace would become the setting for her amazing journey. There she met Misty Schmidt, her human resources director at the time. Not only was Misty her manager, she was also the driving force behind bringing Pink Fishing to Henderson County.
Pink Fishing is a national organization with a noble mission: to inspire and empower people affected by breast cancer. They achieve this through various means, including medical co-pay assistance, care packages, and crucial emotional and spiritual support.
One of the big obstacles Debbie faced on her journey was a lack of health insurance. Navigating the complex health care system without coverage was a daunting task, leaving her unsure about how to proceed with further testing. In her moment of need, Misty stepped in and provided guidance and support. She urged Debbie to reach out to Caroline Nichols, one of the owners of Pink Fishing, setting off a chain of events that would change the course of her battle.
Debbie heeded Misty’s advice, and her decision to contact Caroline Nichols was a lifeline. She had a diagnostic mammogram, and the results were alarming. He indicated that there is a high possibility of breast cancer, which requires further testing. At the testing site, the technician provided her with a Net Health number in Tyler, a critical resource for financial assistance.
The financial aspect of Debbie’s medical journey was looming, so she visited the hospital’s finance office to arrange a payment plan for her tests. What you wouldn’t expect is the tremendous generosity offered by Pink Fishing. To her surprise, she learned that the costs of the mammogram were already covered by the organization. Pink Fishing stepped in to ease her financial burden and provide the help she desperately needed.
However, Pink Fishing’s support did not end with financial aid. Debbie found herself receiving cards of encouragement, gift baskets, and unwavering support from Misty and many others within the Pink Fishing organization. They became her companions on this challenging path, offering hope and solidarity.
The medical journey ahead was no less difficult. Debbie received a diagnosis of an aggressive and rare type of breast cancer known as HER2-positive. Her treatment options were complex, including choosing between a lumpectomy, a single mastectomy, or a double mastectomy. In addition, she was informed that she would undergo intensive chemotherapy, consisting of four different medications to be administered before and after her chosen double mastectomy. To simplify her chemotherapy sessions, she also needed a Mediport, a small medical device that is surgically fitted under her skin.
On April 1, 2020, Debbie embarked on her chemotherapy journey, an arduous process that can take more than eight hours per session. The first two days seemed relatively uneventful, but as time passed, the harsh reality of chemotherapy-induced illness set in. It was a difficult phase, causing her to miss more work than she initially intended.
One day, a poignant moment occurred while Debbie was taking a shower. When she reached back to run her fingers through her hair, she felt it start to fall out. This tangible sign of her battle affected her emotionally, marking a clear shift in her journey.
Throughout this difficult phase, Debbie had her loving husband, Gary, by her side. Restrictions imposed by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic meant he was unable to accompany her for treatment. Instead, he waited patiently in his truck in Tyler, ready to bring her home and provide the care she needed after each session. His unwavering support was a pillar of strength for Debbie during her recovery.
In the midst of her treatments, Debbie found solace in her pink hunting blanket – a source of warmth and a symbol of the community standing by her. Misty often accompanied Debbie to her treatments, offering her emotional support and encouragement.
On July 17, 2021, Debbie reached a milestone – the final day of her initial rounds of chemotherapy. On this memorable occasion, Misty and Gary were by her side when she victoriously rang the bell, signifying the completion of this phase of her battle. It was a day full of warmth and celebration.
Debbie was scheduled to have a mastectomy on August 11, and she took six weeks off work to recover. At first, she felt relatively well, but her outlook changed the morning after the bandages were removed, as she described the experience as painful.
Around September 15, the first day of her second round of chemotherapy began, marking a big change from previous phases. This time, it involved just one drug in a smaller dose.
Seven treatments later, Debbie had the opportunity to ring the bell again, and this time, it was in the presence of Gary and Pink Fishing founders Carolyn Nichols and Leisha Loggains, along with their husbands Dewey and Allen. The celebration continued with a large dinner at the Texas Roadhouse. On June 29, 2022, her Mediport was removed, marking a major milestone in her journey.
In the wake of her battle, Debbie and Gary committed to getting more involved in Pink Fishing. Debbie reflects on her journey with gratitude and acknowledges the pivotal role played by Pink Fishing, her family, Gary and Misty. She believes that without it, she might still be fighting breast cancer or worse.
Debbie’s story holds a unique distinction. Not only is it the first pink fishing success story in Henderson County, but it is also the first in the entire United States. As a result, she holds the titles “Warrior” and “Reel of Inspiration” within the organization. Today, Debbie proudly shares her status as a cancer survivor, has been recognized at Pink Fishing events, and even spoke to the Rotary Club of Athens last month to share her story that serves as a testament to the transformative power of hope, community support, and organizations. Like Pink Fishing which has a profound impact on the lives of those battling breast cancer.
The Pink Fishing journey began in 2007 with a vision that combined a love of fishing with a desire to give back to the community. Its founders’ goal was to raise funds and awareness, targeting a cause that deeply touched the lives of their family and friends. They have a contract with the National Breast Cancer Foundation and over the years, Pink Fishing has exceeded the minimum annual fundraising goal of $10,000 for NBCF, contributing to breast cancer research. However, their mission extends beyond financial support; They seek to make a personal difference in the lives of those actively fighting breast cancer.
Pink Fishing is a Texas-based organization co-owned by Leisha Loggains and Carolyn Nichols.
The core value of diversity and inclusion guides Pink Fishing’s work, emphasizing its dedication to helping individuals regardless of their background. Operating without paid staff, the organization relies on the volunteer efforts of passionate individuals who dedicate countless hours to organizing fundraisers and events like the upcoming Reeling in The Cure event on Cedar Creek Lake.
Pink Fishing’s fundraisers range from bass, trout and catfish tournaments to ice fishing tournaments, saltwater contests, haunted houses, pampered chef fundraisers and chili cook-offs.
Central to Pink Fishing’s work is recognizing “Reel Inspirations” like Debbie, the brave individuals currently battling breast cancer, those who have emerged victorious, and those who have lost their lives to the disease. The organization extends its support to these individuals and their families, recognizing the profound impact breast cancer has on everyone involved.
While primarily associated with women, Pink Fishing proudly emphasizes the role of men on its team. These men stand as pillars of support, having witnessed the devastating effects of breast cancer on their loved ones. Their participation in Pink Fishing allows them to give back and honor the memory of those who have battled the disease.
The organization has partnered with many cancer centers and nurse advocates across the United States and receives requests from individuals seeking help through their website. Recently, Pink Fishing worked to finalize an updated contract with the National Breast Cancer Foundation, reaffirming its commitment to donate $10,000 annually to support programs such as HOPE groups, retreats, support groups, the National Mammography Program, and helping patients Mobility.
A poignant example of the impact of their partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation is the story of a local Henderson County resident. This person received help from Pink Fishing after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly, her daughter, who lives across the country, was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Through its partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Pink Fishing has been able to support both mother and daughter through their journeys, and today, both are cancer-free.
Additionally, Pink Fishing has partnered with United Way of Henderson County to create a program in 2024 to assist Henderson County residents who need mammograms. This initiative aims to raise awareness and promote early detection, especially among women without insurance.
The Pink Fishing Journey is a testament to the strength of community, passion and determination. Through their efforts, they continue to make a tangible impact on the lives of those affected by breast cancer, providing hope, support and a sense of unity in the face of this difficult disease.
As Pink Fishing and its partners join forces, they reaffirm their commitment to spreading awareness, promoting prevention and providing support to individuals and families on their breast cancer journey. Debbie Bell’s story is a powerful reminder of the positive change organizations like Pink Fishing can bring to the lives of individuals facing adversity.
Join Pink Fishing for the 4th annual Reeling in the Cure event on October 21 at Cedar Creek Lake. For more information about this organization or an upcoming bass tournament, visit www.pinkfishing.com.