Using a bag to 'bag' cancer
Dave Perry/The Explorer, Deborah Slabaugh displays the contents and her Bag It!, a repository of records, business cards, notes and advice that helped her beat cancer first diagnosed in 2006. She is an assembler at Ventana Medical Systems, which is a sponsor of Bag It!

Deborah Slabaugh is a longtime employee at Ventana Medical Systems, the Oro Valley company that creates instruments and re-agents for the detection of cancer.

In 2006, Slabaugh herself was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Six rounds of chemotherapy and three rounds of radiation treatment followed surgery.

Before that all began, her oncologist gave her Bag It!, a cream-colored tote bag with blue handles.

"It's real comforting, like a security blanket," Slabaugh said.

Inside was a notebook for keeping track of reports from doctor visits, lab test results, medications prescribed, radiology treatments, chemotherapy treatments and insurance papers. She found room to record her daily symptoms and side effects. There was a sheet for tucking in all the business cards she collected from each of the offices she visited. Bag It! held booklets and reference guides for support groups, hints for eating during treatment, and advice for caregivers.

Bag It!, a non-profit organization dedicated to help cancer patients "Fight the Fear," holds its seventh annual "Take a Hike for Bag It" event on Sunday, Nov. 7.

Bag It! has roots in Northwest Tucson.

Kathy Lackow, media volunteer for Bag It!, has known Bag It! founder Sherri Romanoski for many years. Romanoski and her mother both had breast cancer.

When Romanoski was diagnosed, "she found herself really struggling to find information," Lackow said. After treatment, Romanoski decided to give back through Bag It! Since it began in Tucson in 2003, Bag It! has served more than 25,000 recipients from Flagstaff to Southern Arizona.

Slabaugh is among the many who are grateful. She knows a number of people, among them her parents, who have battled cancer.

"They would just lose track of things," she remembers. "They'd make notes, and have five or six different notebooks."

Chemo can make a patient "forgetful," Slabaugh knows.

"I would go to my book, and see what I took this morning, what my blood count was," she said. Bag It! "was ready-made for me. It was really helpful." And it remains so today.

The website is

Hike for Bag It!

Sunday, Nov. 7

As early as 7, to go to Maiden Pools. Several hikes and half-hour meditative walks.

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort.

Brunch at 10 in the Grand Ballroom

Ventana Canyon offers several hikes of moderate difficulty. People may walk the grounds of the resort as well. An event water bottle, water and snacks, and a full brunch at the resort are part of the day.

Raffle prizes. Mike Candrea, women's softball coach at the University of Arizona, is a special guest.

Cost for the event is $80, with half of it tax-deductible. Each $25 donation supports a bag.

For more information, go to; e-mail; or call 575-9602.

About Bag It!

Bag It! is a non-profit organization that reaches out to cancer patients of any gender, age, or cancer type, at a critical time – right after diagnosis. The information is designed to help patients cope with their diagnosis, move more competently through the treatment process, empower them to become an active member of the treatment team, and transition to follow-up care.

The bag includes an organizational binder, a resource CD, and publications that offer essential skills for coping with a diagnosis and treatment. Information for caregivers is included. It is also available in Spanish.

Its information "helps take people overwhelmed by a cancer diagnosis to a level of understanding about their disease," the literature indicates.

Surgeons, oncologists and nurses all over Arizona hand bags to patients on their first visit. More than 130 offices, hospitals, and clinics in Arizona offer Bag It!, to their patients. Call 575-9602 to help locate an office near you.

Outside Arizona, bags may be ordered by calling 520-575-9602 or 1-866-323-8770 for more information. A $25 donation to cover materials and shipping is appreciated.

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