Former Miss Ohio fights cancer with positive attitudeWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Tiffany Baumann Cantelupe walked into Enzo’s Salon & Spa in North Royalton, Ohio, on Sept. 14. Surrounded by her closest friends and family, the former Miss America contestant put on her most radiant smile as all the hair was shaved from her head.
The lost locks were donated to Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs for children with cancer. But her decision to shave her head wasn’t merely an act of charity. It was also a symbol of the defiance Baumann is directing at the disease. Because she is also battling for her life — against breast cancer.
“I’ve had long blond hair since what seems like birth, so that was a tough one,” Baumann said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star via email.
“I just texted my friends and family saying, ‘Hi guys! So I’m not going to let this drug take my hair, so join me to celebrate great family and friendships as I take it on my own time!’
“After donating to Locks of Love, my children both took the clippers and buzzed the rest off, truly empowering! One of the greatest days of my life!”
Few others would describe battling such a disease as a blessing. But Baumann looks at the big picture, and has ever since she first noticed something was wrong, a mere two months ago.
“It started maybe [at the] end of July, I felt an unfamiliar lump. It took about a week or week and a half of losing sleep, searching the Internet — after all, not ANY type of cancer runs in my family, let alone breast cancer — until I made an appointment with my OBGYN.”
After the initial tests proved inconclusive, Baumann said, “They sent me for an ultrasound and found three lumps in [the] same area, sent me for the biopsy, and two days later, Aug. 10, 2012 (my 6-year-old son’s birthday), they called and said I needed to come in and to bring my family. I knew right away.
“It was everything you watch on TV, except it’s you,” she added.
Further tests identified it as invasive ductal carcinoma and HER2-positive, an aggressive, fast-moving type of cancer that has spread to her lymph nodes.
She began chemotherapy just a few weeks ago, and decided if she was going to lose her hair, it was going to be on her own terms. Baumann didn’t withdraw from the public eye afterward, either.
The very next day, she led “Tiffany’s Troops” at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Cleveland.
“On Friday, after I buzzed my hair, one of my girlfriends gave me a pink wig and I sported it for the race,” Baumann said.
“I had about 30 people on a team put together in less than 48 hours, as well as almost double my fundraising goal, again, all within 48 hours. Yes, I feel so, so very loved, but I also felt the love from everyone there. We raced with pride, love, spirit, honor, support, community for this oh-so-prevalent cause.”
When asked how she remains so positive in the face of such a foe, Baumann cited the powerful influence of her faith, family and friends in her life, but also said she is no stranger to the universe dealing her a bad hand.
“I’ve faced a lot of adversity in my life, from being raised by a single mother, to going to 21 schools growing up, to self-financing my entire college education, to my recent divorce,” Baumann said. “I’m also very competitive. I don’t lose well.”
That drive led Baumann to both the Miss Greater Cleveland and Miss Ohio crowns in 1999. (A passion for pageantry runs in the family — her aunt, Kathrine Baumann, was Miss Ohio in 1969 and runner-up for the national crown in 1970.) Baumann describes her pursuit of the crown as a natural extension of her life’s path, amplified by a sly streak of self-awareness.
“I’ve made my living off of my face, hair, voice and boobs, as a professional singer, model and actress,” she said.
“I’ve always been competitive in school. I ran track and played volleyball in school … the audition was sometimes my favorite part. So competing to be Miss America was my next goal.”
She won her local pageant in 1998, but failed to make the top ten at Miss Ohio that year. Remember that “doesn’t lose well” thing? She won the title just one year later.
“So not only did the competitiveness help me win, it gave me a voice and a platform to help kids that were faced with issues that I dealt with coming from a single-parented family, discussing youth volunteering and mentoring from talking to inner-city schools to Congress and state representatives about this issue,” Baumann said.
“In a sense, I was in a position, having a voice and maybe [being] a source of inspiration then, and maybe now as well,” she said.
It’s a rough road ahead for Baumann. She has many more rounds of chemo — as well as a double mastectomy — scheduled in the coming months.
But still she faces the world with the same drive and fire that led her to the Miss America stage. And this time, she isn’t just fighting for herself.
“My children are so young so they don’t quite understand the depth of it, but I just feel so loved and received so much support between the media and Facebook and my blog, it has been amazing,” Baumann said. “This is how I have been gifted with this illness.”