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Celebrating Survivors

Posted on December 17, 2019

Debbie Dowling (left) and Amy Woods (right) from the Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation with Vallie Collins, who was the featured speaker at the event
L-R: Physicians Brian Pugh, DO, Robert Santee, MD, and Natasha Townsend, MD

Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation board member Emily Kile takes the podium and declares it a day of celebration.

“Today the sun is shining and we’re celebrating life,” Kile says.

The room at the Ramsey Hotel in Pigeon Forge was filled with men and women gathered for a special “Paint the Mountains Pink” luncheon. The annual event brings breast cancer survivors together with their doctors, imaging technologists, nurses and caregivers from LeConte Medical Center.

The survivors are also encouraged to bring guests, usually a beloved family member, friend or caregiver who has been instrumental during the survivor’s cancer journey. This is the fifth year for the luncheon, and as breast cancer continues to become more treatable and beatable, it’s likely the event will continue for years to come.

“I am a 25-year survivor, and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Kile says. “Life is good, every year the number of survivors continues to grow and so does our beautiful luncheon.”

Debbie Dowling, executive director of the Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation, praised the attendees for their strength.

“You are warriors, you are overcomers, you are fighters and you are survivors,” Dowling said. She also recognized the guests who have supported the breast cancer survivors.

“We look forward to planning this luncheon every year,” Dowling said. “We are honored that you are all here today.”

Painting the Mountains Pink

LeConte Medical Center vice president of support services Michael Hatmaker sits with breast cancer survivors Claudia Ogburn, pharmacy director (left) and Callie West, stroke team coordinator (right).
Employees from event sponsor First Horizon Bank

The annual event is part of an ongoing effort to make sure Sevier County women know and share the importance of catching breast cancer early. Early detection saves lives.

Paint the Mountains Pink also makes screening mammograms available to women who can’t afford them. The Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation and LeConte Medical Center partner with local sponsors to give women in Sevier County the best odds when it comes to surviving breast cancer.

LeConte Breast Center radiologist Robert Santee, MD, spoke hope into the lives of the women who were there. Dr. Santee was a driving force behind creating the survivors’ luncheon, where breast cancer patients can draw support from one other.

“I wanted to start this get together so the caregivers can see what an impact they make on this community and in people’s lives,” Dr. Santee says, “but more importantly, for some of the newly diagnosed breast cancer patients to see that they’re not alone.”

Dr. Santee says that early diagnosis of breast cancer and getting excellent treatment are more important than ever before.

“It’s important that you all spread the word about getting screening mammograms,” he told the crowd, “as well as telling people if they can’t afford it, they can go to Paint the Mountains Pink for help in getting their mammograms done.”

Offering the Best Care

LeConte Comprehensive Breast Center offers 3D mammography and will soon add another unit to provide advanced screening to the women of Sevier County. Also known as tomosynthesis, 3D mammography provides a three-dimensional picture of the breast and is especially helpful in detecting breast cancer earlier in women who have dense breast tissue.

The hospital also will install a new MRI scanner. The machine will have a wider bore or opening, which is helpful for patients who feel claustrophobic during traditional MRI scans.

The new MRI is expected to be available to patients by late May 2020.

“You get quality care here,” Dr. Santee says of LeConte Comprehensive Breast Center. “Also, the treatment from our surgeons and the oncologists and radiation therapists at Thompson Cancer Survival Center can all be delivered locally.”

Dr. Santee expresses a theme among the doctors and medical staff. With a commitment to excellence and always putting the patient first, Sevier Countians can always “count on LeConte.”

To schedule a screening mammogram or to learn more about Paint the Mountains Pink, visit or call (865) 446 – 8000.