HAMBLEN COUNTY, Tenn. — Pickleball is a sport sweeping the nation in popularity. When one Hamblen County woman picked up a paddle over a year and a half ago, she had no idea how the hobby would save her life.
You can't have Pam Evans without pickleball. She is undoubtedly the sport's biggest fan.
"I love pickleball more than anything," Evans said. "I'm addicted. I would play every day all day long if I could."
This Bean Station Elementary School librarian counts her blessings, on and off the court. She says she wakes up each day looking forward to seeing her kids at work and then playing pickleball in her free time.
In the short time since she's picked up the exercise, she's seen how much of an impact it's had on her family, friendships and fun. She says pickleball literally saved her life.
"I got hit with a pickleball in December, and I kept an eye on it," Evans said. "It hurt. It hurt really bad."
February is when she met her toughest competitor.
"I finally went to the doctor, and that day they told me I had breast cancer," Evans said. "I made a big mistake waiting from December to February to get treatment."
The diagnosis was triple-negative inflammatory breast cancer.
"It was crushing," Evans said. "I never dreamed that was going to be part of it." She didn't even bring anyone with her to the appointment, because she thought the spot would be nothing.
Lucky for her, when cancer came swinging, her support system stepped up.
"She is my partner, and we go and crush it," said Kris Heefner, Pam's friend. "I'm hoping that she does the same thing to this breast cancer."
Heefner helped put together "Pickleball for Pam." It was a tournament fundraiser at the end of April, focused on serving her friend.
"We knew that people would come for Pam, and they did," Heefner said.
Her friends and family know how financially and physically draining the diagnosis is, so they want to help ease those issues as much as they can. Evans plans to receive treatment in Houston, Texas at MD Anderson.
"I'm gonna fight it," Evans said. "I've got a sick husband, and I've got an elderly mom and I have to live to take care of them. So I'm gonna fight it."
This fight is a full-circle moment for her pal, Teresa Prince.
"I wanted to come out and support her because during COVID, I had breast cancer, and she was a great support to me," Prince said.
Evans has a history of helping her own friends. Around 30 years ago, her childhood friend Leia Davis also received cancer treatment at MD Anderson.
"She was right there with me the whole time," Davis said. "She actually went the day that I had a diagnosis."
Evans is not just a fighter. She's a good friend. On and off the court, there is no other choice for her, but to win.
"There's no doubt she's fierce," Heefner said.
From the messages, fundraisers and support, Evans feels the love from every angle of her life.
"I'm just about tired of saying, 'Thank you,' because they've been so good to me. It's just unbelievable how much they love me," Evans said.
Evans wants to encourage everyone to get checked as soon as they feel like something is not right. Knowing sooner is always better than wondering, "What if?"
If you would like to donate to Pam, or send messages of encouragement, you can do so on the Lakeway Area Pickleball Facebook Page.