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ART IMITATING LIFE: ANNA WALKER AND “STICK IT TO CANCER” NIGHT

Thursday, February 1st
ART IMITATING LIFE: ANNA WALKER AND “STICK IT TO CANCER” NIGHT

It is no secret that cancer, regardless of its many forms, is an insidious disease. It doesn’t discriminate and is devastating in its own way to the person afflicted, their caregivers, and loved ones alike. 

Despite the toll it takes on the world, there are those that persevere and find a way to beat this evil. Through a positive attitude, relentless work, selfless care received, time, and fiery will, people vanquish cancer and use their stories to encourage others still in the fight for their lives. These stories of brave men and women are told in a variety of ways: through loved ones, word of mouth, or written work. 

Specifically for Anna Walker, a survivor of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, she tells her story through art: art that was once showcased nationally on a NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) car and will once again be showcased on the Greenville Swamp Rabbits jerseys this Saturday night for their annual “Stick It To Cancer” Night game.

In a special twist, this emotionally charged night also happens to be her first Swamp Rabbits game. 

“My husband and I have talked about wanting to go to a game for so long. We have a good friend that seemingly goes to each game, may even have season tickets, and he raves about the games and the atmosphere,” Walker said. “That said, I’m so excited this is my first game, and how special as well to honor so many that have gone through their battles with cancer just like I did.”

Walker was diagnosed in 2021, just a year after she got married and roughly two months after starting her current job in digital design. Her fight was nine months: eight with chemotherapy, and one with radiology. It was an intense time for a number of reasons, but Walker credits her family, friends, caregivers Dr. Hal Crosswell and nurses Kaitlin Bomar and Kesina Lewis, and at the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Cancer Care at St. Francis Cancer Center in Greenville, S.C., for keeping her positively engaged and focused during her treatments.

After nine grueling months, Walker was told she was in remission, and thankfully has stayed that way for over a year now.

“It was so surreal, honestly”. Walker explained. “You have these goals and milestones that you set out to meet when you start your treatment. Because of that, you’re in a constant state of ‘okay, what’s next? We got to this point, what’s the next step’, and so on, so you’re always looking ahead, in a sense.

“To get to a point where my doctors told me they’d see me in a couple of months versus next week, I was speechless,” she continued. “It took some time to get used to that, but I was done, and the feeling was incredible. There was so much celebration, and a very special moment shared with my family.”

Shortly after her remission revelation, an opportunity presented itself to Walker to share her story in a manner that’s, as we say in sports, “right in her wheelhouse”. According to Walker, AYA Cancer Care sends out a newsletter once a month that allows people to connect with those still going through treatment or those that have survived, like her. This particular newsletter had a section that called for entries into a special design contest.

The contest? Design a concept to adorn the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro for the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 8, 2023.

“My care team mentioned the contest to me on one of my visits and it seemed right up my alley. As a digital designer, I HAD to give this a shot,” Walker emphatically said. “There was no doubt in my mind I was going to do this. I took a day to think over the concept, but once I sat at my computer and started the design process, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”

Walker’s design ultimately won the competition and was chosen to beautify the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet for the NCS’ second pass through Charlotte Motor Speedway. The design signifies her journey fighting cancer:

  • Green is the color of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and signifies the root cause of her battle
  • The imagery within the green hues represent actual imagery from her Computed Tomography (CT) scans, which showed the specific shapes of the cancer cells in her body
  • The color then fades from green to blue, as does the concentration of her cancer cells, and that transition embodies the progression of her fight to her eventual remission from the disease
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Photo: Spire Motorsports

“My CT scans were so fascinating to me. Actually seeing the cancer and what it looked like made it more real to me, and in some way easier to understand what’s going on,” Walker passionately expanded, “so I took the patterns from my original CT scan when the cancer was at its most prominent and made that the main pattern of the design. Lime green is the color of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and I wanted blue to be the end result of my transition into being healthy again.

“When I saw the car for the first time in Charlotte, it was way more emotional than I expected,” she continued. “I expected excitement and to just enjoy the day, but when I saw the car in person, it was definitely emotional. When I went through my cancer journey, I did my best to keep things to myself and my family just because it’s difficult sometimes to discuss something like this with people that might not understand the situation. To see it publicly felt like a huge sigh of relief that I could talk about this now: what I went through, the strength I built from it, and hopefully inspire others in their own fight and show they can get through it as well.”

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Photo: Bon Secours Social Media

For Walker, it was one thing to have her design nationally recognized on television during an NCS race and tell her story that publicly. But to have her design on a NASCAR *AND* a professional hockey jersey for an annual cancer fighting night, *AND* in the community she’s living in? She never expected that.

“It was just before Christmas and I got an email asking if it was okay to use my design for the ‘Stick It To Cancer’ Night jerseys. Without hesitation, I said ‘Please, do it!’” Walker exclaimed. “I thought this was so cool, so I gave the team permission and offered whatever they needed. They said they were going into production soon and the game was in February, so I immediately circled it on the calendar. I was mind blown that this could be another cool experience that I could be a part of.”

Despite this Saturday being her first Swamp Rabbits game, Walker has been fully aware for a while that “Stick It To Cancer” Night is on the team’s calendar every year. Her expectation of the night, what it means, and having her design on the team’s jerseys is quite simple.

“I actually expect this night to be just as, if not more emotional than when I was at the race,” Walker concluded. “For me, seeing a community come together to support something that not everyone goes through or completely understands, showing love and support, that is incredible to see, especially because I’ve been through it. 

“When you go through something like this, you think you’re going to do it alone and people aren’t going to understand. Then you have a community come together and put on a night where so many people have been through this hardship. It’s such a cool experience, and I can’t wait to be a part of it this Saturday night. My hope is for the fans, and those still fighting cancer, to see the design on these jerseys and understand that there is hope, and that you can fight and beat this insidious disease.”

Fans can own one of these special jerseys by bidding on them in the auction following Saturday’s game against Jacksonville. The proceeds from the auction will benefit the Bon Secours St. Francis Foundation. 

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Bon Secours St. Francis Health System is part of Bon Secours Mercy Health, one of the 20 largest health systems in the United States and the fifth-largest Catholic health system in the country. The ministry’s quality, compassionate care is provided by more than 60,000 associates serving communities in Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, and Virginia, as well as throughout Ireland. Bon Secours St. Francis Health System provides compassionate medical care to thousands of area residents through Bon Secours St. Francis Downtown and Bon Secours St. Francis Eastside, as well as a network of primary and specialty care practices, and ambulatory care sites across the Greenville region. The mission of Bon Secours St. Francis Health System is to extend the compassionate ministry of Jesus by improving the health and well-being of our communities and bring good help to those in need, especially people who are poor, dying and underserved. For more information, visit BonSecours.com.

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