Tigner defeats disease to continue pageant love

Published 5:00 am Monday, July 10, 2006

Last year, Carla Tigner was invited by pageant officials toserve as a judge for the Miss South Carolina pageant.

Tigner, of Brookhaven, regrettably had to turn down the offerdespite her background in pageants. The reason – she had beendiagnosed with breast cancer.

Tigner who serves as co-host alongside her dad, Paul Ott, on theradio show “Listen to the Eagle,” first became alarmed through abreast self-examination. She went to the doctor and underwenttests, but believed the lump she had found was only a fibroidcyst.

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But a biopsy six months later confirmed she had breastcancer.

“I was in shock after the diagnosis,” she said. “It’s one ofthose things you just don’t expect.”

Tigner has since had a bilateral mastectomy, a surgery removingboth of her breasts, and has undergone six months of chemotherapytreatments. She is proud to be cancer-free and has become anadvocate for self-examinations.

South Carolina pageant representatives told her they would likefor her to judge the 2006 pageant if she was feeling better by thattime. This past week, Tigner was able to fulfill her duties asjudge.

For the past two weeks, Tigner has volunteered her time withfour other judges of similar pageant histories.

The South Carolina pageant, a branch of the Miss Americaorganization, began its preliminary competition on July 4 andwrapped up on Saturday with the crowning of Miss South Carolina2006.

Tigner was there through every event, critiquing the girls oninterviews, talent, swimsuit and evening wear appearances andon-stage questions. The state also hosts its Miss Outstanding Teenpageant during the same week, and Tigner served as judge for that,too.

She said she enjoys helping the women prepare and seeing themgrow and knows that the experience will give them life skills forthe future.

“Whether a woman makes top 10 or wins or not, the experienceitself makes young women gain poise, confidence and social skillsthat will benefit them for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Tigner’s fascination with pageants began at an early age. Shesaid she “pretty much grew up in the pageant system” as she watchedher mother’s involvement in them.

Her mother was crowned Miss Louisiana in 1959 and chaperonedwith Miss Mississippi for several years to the Miss Americapageant.

In 1983, Tigner herself was named third runner-up in the MissMississippi pageant. She was crowned Miss University of Alabama in1984.

Just as Tigner followed in her mom’s footsteps into pageantlife, like her mom she also was consumed by cancer.

Both women were diagnosed at age 42. Her mother had ovariancancer and died at age 44.

Since breast and ovarian cancer are linked, Tigner said she hadalways been aware of her possibility of breast cancer and that’swhy she began self examinations. But even though she was aware ofher risk, the news couldn’t have been more startling, she said.

“With any cancer, you hear that word and it’s a frighteningthing,” she said.

She said her friends, family, her Brookhaven community and herstrong faith in God helped her through the trying time, offeringher support and comfort.

“I felt like I had a very good perspective on life beforehandbecause of my experience with my mom, but when it affects youpersonally, you realize how short and precious life is,” shesaid.

Even though she is now cancer-free, Tigner continues toappreciate what each new morning has to offer.

“Every day I wake up thankful and try to seize the day,” shesaid. “Everything has new meaning.”