Thursday, January 15, 2015

Make a Difference

              When I was in 5th grade, I remember being in the kitchen after dinner and my parents asking my brother and me to come sit on the couch with them. That’s when they told us. My dad had colon cancer. At the time I was young, but I knew what cancer was. I knew how serious it was, but they told me that everything was going to be okay, so I believed them. He soon started chemo. Every week my mom and dad would make trips up to John’s Hopkins to receive the treatment. For a while, everything was going well, but the cancer kept spreading. A few months later, he was admitted into the hospital, and then another month later passed away. Whenever someone asks me to think of a hard time in my life, or a really sad time, this is the only time that ever pops up into my head. As the oldest, I had not only known my dad the longest, but I now felt as if I had a bigger responsibility to help my mom, brother and sister.

Growing up, it was always fun to see the reactions on people’s faces when they found out that my dad was an astronaut. Everyone’s next question was always if he had been to space. Yes, three times actually. My Dad was an explorer, an engineer, a pilot and a true contributor to world progress and innovation.  But most of all, he was my dad.  It has been six years now since he passed away.  Perceptions of moments with my father have not been changed by the years. There are things that I have forgotten, that I wish I did not, but certain things will always remain.

              Whenever I feel like I’m facing a hard situation - getting up for my 8 am class, studying for a midterm, or dealing with everyday things, I think back to my dad.  Think back to memories of him and of his dedication even throughout his chemo treatments. This memory always helps me get through whatever that tough problem may be, because life could be so much worse. A man with so much determination and modesty could still run 4 miles every morning and then get treatment in the afternoon, so little things should not bother me.
Since I’ve been at UVA, I find myself thinking of my dad more than ever. In a different place, on my own, away from everything familiar, deciding what I want to do for the rest of my life. All I want to do is sit down and have him tell me exactly what to do, giving me his thoughtful words of wisdom and sharing his wonderful stories.

This is one of the reasons why I love Relay For Life at UVA and Exec board. We all have come together for a cause that is so important to each and every one of us. Every single person has a story, has been affected, and knows the pains cancer brings in some way. Together, we can fight back.
We can question all we want - why things happen, how cancer could take someone so incredible, but cancer has no preference. That’s where we come in - to raise awareness about early detection, find new treatments, find a cure and BEAT cancer.
My dad once said in a speech:  "Having a dream and working hard to achieve it, and then doing so, is very rewarding. It is even more rewarding if the realization of your dreams benefits not just you, but other individuals, or your community or country. So make a contribution along the way -- to your fellow citizens, your country, or the world. Make the fact that you exist meaningful to the world. Make a difference."
              Relay for Life is one of those many contributions I hope to make along the way. I relay to make a difference. I relay to fight for something so important to me. I relay for all of the dads, moms, and families. I relay in memory and in honor. I relay to celebrate, to remember, and to fight back.

With Relay Love,

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Favorite Thing

When I was little, my grandmother, Nene, and I used to watch The Sound of Music together, regularly. She always curled my hair in rollers, and I routinely modeled my finest smock stitched dress so I felt like one of the Von Trapp children.

You can imagine the sing-a-longs. Chanting at the top of our lungs, "Doe a deer, a female deer, Ray, a drop of golden sun,” and "So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodnight," was enough to cause alarm to the neighbors, scare the birds from the tree outside the front door, and send the dog into hiding, who had also dressed the part. 


Over the holidays, I often tune into the season’s television specials. A few days before Christmas, The Sound of Music aired, and as if no time had passed, I found myself humming the chorus of, “My Favorite Things,”

 When the dog bites,
 When the bee stings,
 When I’m feeling sad,
  I simply remember my favorite things
 And then I don’t feel so bad.

Today, I visited Evergreen Burial Park, leaving behind a daffodil, a pack of Juicy Fruit gum, a York peppermint patty, a basketball, an Elvis tape, a Virginia Tech pom-pom and a Nascar Hotwheel, along with a few family photos. These represent many of Nene's favorite things, and today is the two-year anniversary of her funeral, after she passed away forgoing treatment for lung cancer. 

The ones we love deserve all the time in the world & more to spend with their favorite things, as do you and I, and Nene was one of mine. Today, as well as everyday, I am remembering her.  And today, as well as everyday, I am continuing her fight against cancer.

With RelayLove,

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hope Does Prevail

I relay for my family. I relay in memory of my great grandfather who succumbed to brain cancer, great grandmother-ovarian cancer, paternal grandmother-lung cancer and for my aunt, who for six years has been courageously battling breast cancer.  

In April 2008, my aunt, Janet Neau, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Her prognosis then was HOPE. The combination of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that followed took their toll on her already oppressed immune system and as a result she developed bacterial pneumonia. With new medications and an incredible tenacity, she survived the pneumonia and continues today to inspire and amaze us all. To date, her most recent PET scan reveals the cancer to be aggressive and metastatic. Her six year struggle has been arduous yet she has defied every odd proving hope does prevail.

I relay in support of my wonderful family and for all who have been affected by this disease. I relay in CELEBRATION of my incredible aunt, Janet Neau. I relay for LIFE.

With RelayLove, 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Think back to the day that you received your acceptance letter to Mr. Jefferson’s University. Do you remember the way you felt? If you were anything like me you were completely beside yourself, screaming with excitement. Can you remember the first person you called? I do. I called my Papaw Virgil, otherwise known as Paps. You see Paps wore the honor of honors many years ago, and I can remember sitting and listening to all of these fascinating stories and hoping that I too one day could be a Wahoo. When the day finally came, my fingers couldn’t dial fast enough. I can remember the way he answered the phone in confusion as to why I would be screaming so loudly and asking me to slow down. When I was finally able calm down and utter the words I could hear the excitement and pride in his voice as he congratulated me. I knew right then that I would never forget that day.

 My Paps was an incredible man. He grew up 1 of 15 children in the coal mines of Wise Virginia and worked to pay his way through college. He was one of the most intelligent men I have ever met. He had the perfect ratio of wittiness and friendliness; he always made it a goal to get to know each and every person he came in contact with.  He also had the ambition we are all taught to admire - never settling for anything less than what he has set his mind to. And because of this hard-work, he was very successful.

All who knew him loved him. You can see why I would look up to someone like this and aspire to follow in his footsteps. He always knew exactly what to say and offered constant words of encouragement throughout my first year. I can remember failing one of my first tests as a student here and being completely devastated. Calling him tear-stricken and discouraged, Paps reminded me that life is so much more than a test grade.  It is merely a number and did not define me. He reminded me that it is okay to not know what I want in life and to change your mind every other day because everything finds a way to work in the end; we just have to follow along the course of life.  I looked forward to my visits home so I could talk with him about all the exciting things happening around Grounds, my favorite classes here at the University, and simply how much I loved being a Wahoo. He would listen intently and pepper me with curious questions then enlighten me with his own stories about his time at here at Mr. Jefferson’s University. One of my favorites and perhaps one of the most interesting ones is how he hitchhiked his way all the way from Charlottesville to Wise. Or how he had to apply for a credit card when he got here – specifically so he could buy new suits. I quickly realized how blessed I was to have such an incredible person to learn from and share these experiences with

However, in July I lost my sweet Paps to cancer.

On July 10th of this year, after being hospitalized with what we thought had been persistent pneumonia, he was called into the doctor's office to receive the shocking news. He had stage IV lung cancer that had progressed too far. They were not sure there was much more they could do. My whole family entered a state of shock. It just couldn't be possible; Paps was a relatively healthy man for his age. How could he have cancer? It had to be some mistake. 

After the initial shock wore off, Paps acted as if nothing had happened. He stayed his old fun, loving self until eventually the cancer ate away at his body. Day by day, he became sicker and sicker. He was hospitalized one final time before deciding to come home to finish his fight. In the time we had left with Paps we all stayed with him day in and day out. We wanted to relish the bittersweet, precious time we had left with him and learn every last thing he was willing to offer.

Paps lost his battle on July 30th, only 20 days after being diagnosed. 20 days is not a significant amount of time; in 480 precious house and less than 3 weeks, the disease overcame his body. Cancer has no remorse, and cancer works quickly.

Cancer took my fellow Wahoo. I now no longer have my Paps to swap stories with or complain to about our football team. It still isn't easy to not have him around for those constant words of encouragement or endless life lessons, but is it ever easy to lose a loved one? I relay because I think it is important to remember those who have lost their battle and honor those who are still fighting. i relay because it is rewarding to know you have made an impact in helping to change the outcome for those who will be diagnosed in the future. I relay for a world with more Wahoos and less cancer.

With RelayLove, 

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