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Carters coaching through husband, father’s battle with cancer

Allison Carter, far left, plays infield for the Smile Team Natchez-Adams Girls Softball squad while her mother, Angie, second from left, and sisters Jennifer and Melissa are all coaches for the team. Angie’s husband, Pat, is battling Stage IV pancreatic cancer. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Allison Carter, far left, plays infield for the Smile Team Natchez-Adams Girls Softball squad while her mother, Angie, second from left, and sisters Jennifer and Melissa are all coaches for the team. Angie’s husband, Pat, is battling Stage IV pancreatic cancer. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — For at least an hour and a half, Angie Carter and her daughters can forget the fact that her husband is battling Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

As head coach of the Smile Team ages 12 and older Natchez-Adams Girls Softball League squad, Angie employs the help of her two older daughter — Jennifer, 22, and Melissa, 20 — to help coach a team that includes her youngest child, Allison, 14.

Coaching a group of girls was already a tall order for Angie — she had never coached before — but when Pat Carter was diagnosed four weeks ago, the already bumpy road introduced the Carter ladies to a rocky mountain to climb.

Melissa cheers during her team’s game on Tuesday evening. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Melissa cheers during her team’s game on Tuesday evening. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

“We were devastated,” Angie said. “Everyone said that I needed to let someone else take over, but I said no. I knew my kids could handle it. They’re tough.”

Time spent taking care of Pat is split between the two older daughters and Angie. Angie has missed two games this season, but despite the circumstances, Smile Team was still in contention for first place in their age division as of Tuesday night.

“I have a great team,” Angie said. “My girls take care of me. We’re a team on and off the field. Allison takes care of the house, Melissa runs our flea market on 61 North and Jennifer takes care of my 84-year-old mother-in-law. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”

Angie said Pat’s cancer is terminal, but because of the family’s faith in God, they haven’t given up hope.

“We’re hopeful for a miracle,” she said.

And when her team plays a game on weekday nights, Angie said it all goes out the window for an hour and a half.

“I don’t think of anything on the field except (my players),” Angie said. “My personal life doesn’t have anything to do with them. I told them at the beginning of the season that I’d need their entire focus for an hour and a half each night, and I had to do the same thing for them.”

Allison Carter prepares to swing at a pitch during a Smile Team Natchez-Adams Girls Softball squad game on Tuesday evening. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Allison Carter prepares to swing at a pitch during a Smile Team Natchez-Adams Girls Softball squad game on Tuesday evening. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)

Melissa said she’s learned a lot going through this tribulation, and it’s taught her to treasure the time spent with her loved ones.

“It’s really hard,” Melissa said. “It makes you realize you have to count your blessings and cherish every moment you have with people in your life, because you never know when their last day on earth is going to be — or your last day.”

As tough as she and her sisters are, though, Melissa said the last month has been very difficult for everyone.

“It’s the worst news you could ever possibly hear,” Melissa said. “The only thing we know to do is pray for each other and be there for each other. It’s hard knowing my dad is going through this — and that my mom is going through this. I worry about both of them.”

Jennifer said when she found out about the diagnosis that she decided to remain positive in spite of the circumstances. But on some days, staying positive isn’t easy.

“It’s hard not to fall apart, but we try to use what little time we might have and try to be positive,” Jennifer said. “Cancer is not a death sentence — you can live a little while. You just have to be positive with the way you think about it.”

Allison has the unique perspective of trying to play through the difficult times, but she said she knows it’s important to play well every time she takes the field.

“My daddy always told me he wouldn’t be scared, so I should be,” Allison said. “He told me that I should play like he played (baseball) in high school. I’m playing for him.”

Her family’s faith in God is the main reason they’ve been able to remain strong throughout the process, Allison said. Between practice and games, Allison also said there’s never a day she doesn’t want to participate.

“Softball is my favorite sport,” she said. “You only have it a certain amount of time each year, so I have to enjoy every moment.”

The decision to coach a softball team is something Angie pursued after retiring from Natchez Regional Medical Center after working there for more than 30 years.

“I had always wanted to do it, and Melissa said she’d help me, and I called Jennifer and she said she’d help,” Angie said.

With no experience coaching, Angie said she relied on experience of playing in childhood and watching her two older girls play during their days in the Natchez-Adams Girls Softball League.

“You know how parents are always better coaches than the (actual) coaches, so I used my skills from the stands,” Angie joked.

Melissa said she chose to help her mom coach out of a love for the game.

“I love and miss softball dearly,” Melissa said. “If I could play today, I would love it. Being out there helping my mom coach is so much fun, and my mom needs help with it.”

Jennifer said her passion for softball also led her to help her mother, and it’s been a learning experience for her.

“It’s a good way to be together with my family and help my sister out,” Jennifer said. “I can’t play it anymore, but I like being around the sport. I’ve used what I knew from when I played, but I’ve learned a lot watching the other girls.”

Though all the girls — including Allison — give their input, the decision-making power lies solely with Angie. That hasn’t always made things easy, Angie said, laughing.

“We had some disagreements at first, but when we finally sat down, I saw that they had some great ideas,” Angie said. “Even Allison gives great advice — she helped me pick the team.”