Making-Magic Header
Macon Telegraph
September 14, 2002
Page 6A

This column was Ron Woodgeard's last for The Macon Telegraph.   It was published May 5, 2002.   Woodgeard succumbed to cancer, Monday, September 9.

I'm not giving up yet

Normally, I look forward to writing my weekend column.   Not today.   Today, I write about something I am least comfortable writing about.   A few months ago, I got an e-mail message from a person in Washington who reads my column.   She wrote something like:  I've been hearing you have been under the weather lately.   I don't know how else to put this, but how's your health?"

A little blunt, perhaps, but I like people who get to the point.   I don't know how the state of my health reached her ears.   It hardly matters.   The fact of the matter is that my health is not very good.   I have written about cancer's struggle with me in the past.   But it's been a while, and the cancer is back.   I am taking a medical leave to deal with it.

I don't know how long I will be out.   I hope to come back to normal, but sooner or later I figure the odds may catch up to me.   I have asked permission during my leave to write when I am able.   My boss, Jeanie Enyart, has agreed.   And, I must say that nobody ever had a more supportive boss.  

I mention it because other survivors aren't nearly so fortunate.   Cancer patients are still deeply stigmatized.   If I've learned anything, it's that none of us can get through the tough times alone.   Also, you do not always leave this life with the same friends you've built up over the years.   The ones who remain with you to the end of your life are your truest friends.   In fact, it's almost worth suffering a life-threatening illness to learn these lessons.

Unfortunately, they only come the hard way.   The first symptoms of my illness began appearing almost exactly ten years ago.   A few months later, the worst became clear after a biopsy.   My two young sons were with me when I got the bad news in a local hospital room.   Last week, my two sons were again with me when I received more unpleasant news.   My sister was on hand this time.

My family, including my parents, has been a rock for me all these years.   It's no exaggeration to say that without their support and the prayers of many other friends, I would not be here now.   Several doctors over the years have said that very few people with my history have survived this long.   For years, I have grown accustomed to being thankful for every single moment.   Like men in warfare, people like me look hard not for big events, but for life's smallest gifts.

I've had so many recurrences that I've lsot count.   I've had surgeries major and minor at least 15 times.   Radiation, four times.   Chemotherapy, three times.   The last time I got through a recurrence, I bought a Superman golf shirt at Underground Atlanta to celebrate.   I should have worn it more often.

I have a relatively rare form of cancer.   It started out as a small tumor in one of my nasal passages.   Over the years, the cancer cells hid and darted around and spread into my right eye and other structures in my face and sinuses.   I hope that someday a cure will be found for cancer, particularly for the kinds that kill children.

As I sat in waiting rooms all these years, I have never ceased to be amazed at the courage shown by children.   I have taken many lessons from them.   They don't have complicated methods of coping.   They fall back on the most simple treatment forms.   Hugs.   Touching.   The average child with cancer has more courage in a fragile finger than the toughest man out there has in his entire body.   Faith is important.   Prayer works more swiftly and surely than medicine.

And finally, I take inspiration from my paternal grandfather.   He died when I was a teen-ager of a form of cancer similar to mine.   A railroad engineer, he worked every day until he could no longer climb up on an engine.   I'm not as tough as that.   But I'm not giving up just yet.