Monday, August 4, 2008

The Luckiest Man on Earth!

In these columns, I vary from topic to topic, but most of the time, I try to bring a little humor and happiness into the lives of readers. (Unfortunately, that’s usually result of my unintentionally typographical errors or misspellings.)

My friends and associates know that I’m what’s called “laid back”. Non-conventional. (Some would call it “goofy”). I wear funny-looking Hawaiian shirts. I’ve always valued friends WAY more than money… (which works out well for me since I don’t HAVE any money.) And I enjoy my sense of humor… even when nobody else does.

Taken all together, it makes writing these columns each week one of my favorite pastimes. But this week is VERY special… a column about how truly blessed I am. I feel like the luckiest man on earth.

I actually have proof. Three times in my life, I’ve escaped “near death” experiences. At age four, I fell out of a car traveling down the busiest street in my hometown of Lexington (U.S. 1) with speeding cars zooming around me in the dark of night. I escaped with a hospital stay, a permanent bump on the noggin’, and a picture in the local newspaper of “the little boy whose head was bandaged like a mummy”.

Then, in the fifth grade, I suffered a double-ruptured appendix which kept me hospitalized for nearly a month. Had my mom and dad waited two hours ‘til daybreak to take me to the hospital rather than leaving their beds in the dead of night, I would not have survived, doctors told us.

In 1983, I was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer – melanoma – and given a 30% chance of survival. Yet, 25 years later, I’m still kicking.

(I should probably add in the high school football injury that ruined my left knee, ended my sports career – one of the reasons you won’t be seeing me in the Olympics this month – but kept me out of Viet Nam. In 1971, that seemed a lot like luck to me.)

And then, just a few days ago, when I went to see my close friend, Dr. Oscar Lovelace, for something that seemed no more serious that a headache, I sensed his concern. We had worked together for over a year on his campaign for Governor, and I had somewhat learned to read his heart. A saw the great concern and compassion that I had often seen in his eyes before, especially when I told him of my previous melanoma. Within hours he had the results from an MRI, telling me “the news is not what we hoped for”.

Now before I go any further, let me assure you, my friends and readers, that I am optimistic that I will be writing his column for many years to come. And I hope that’s what the Good Lord has planned for me also. (Right now, I’m really hoping the Lord enjoys my off-the-wall style of humor that I sometimes slip into the weekly columns. If not… no offense, Lord… and forgive me for my bad sense of humor.)

As a political consultant and a newspaper publisher, I’m familiar with “spin”… but there’s not really much way to spin this:

A few days ago, tests revealed I have a cancerous brain tumor.

Along with Dr. Lovelace, Dr. William Butler, my previous oncologist from SC Oncology Center, confirmed the cancer, and this week, I will be visiting a specialist at MUSC to help determine what, if any course of action, can be taken.

I don’t know how other people would react to such news. But in the days since, I have been completely overcome with one central thought: I truly feel like the luckiest man in the world! I can’t even begin to count my blessings.

Obviously, I’m lucky to have a friend like Oscar, who has helped me think very clearly about my medical condition, and spent countless hours to shepherd me through tests that might normally take weeks in only days, even hours.

I also think of my friend Jerry Fowler, who during his last years allowed me to share his weekly journey with cancer with the readers of my newspapers. His courageous, positive approach of sharing his battle as a way to help others is now a blessing for me, allowing me the insight to follow his lead, and talk openly with you, similarly, I hope, in a way to benefit others. Without Jerry, it would never have occurred to me. Now, however, I am calmed by this very act of sharing with you.

But my greatest blessings are the friends and family, with which I have been blessed. At the top of the list are the Mom and Dad who brought me into this world and gave me the most loving and supporting family environment a person could have. And, most importantly, they took me to Sunday School and church every week from the youngest age I could remember, giving me a foundation of faith which has never allowed for a single solitary second a doubt that I would end up anywhere but Heaven. And, that, right now, is a very nice thought: It takes the only real issue off the table! They took me to church, I grew up believing I would live in eternity, and no other thought has ever crossed my mind.

I’m lucky to have an entire family that makes me nothing but proud. My sons, Rod, Jr. who makes me proud every day when he follows almost exactly in my footsteps, and Ross, who makes me proud when he chooses his own path, are both perfect to me. I don’t tell my wife Pat nearly often enough how happy I am to have her in my life, and she forgives me. My step-daughter, Amy, has filled my life with joy. My first wife, Becky, gave me the sons I cherish, and did it without the help she deserved, and managed to turn them into the special young men they became.

I have brothers, sisters, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and ex-relatives all of whom return the love that I have for them… topped off with two wonderful grandchildren who love their “Rod-Boy”. I cannot even recall a truly cross word spoken between any two members of my family. And, to a person, they overlook my flaws, my controversies, my occasional “black sheep” tendencies… and accept me for who I am. A lucky man.

And I have some of the most wonderful, trustworthy friends and associates you can imagine. Starting with my long-time business associates who somehow find a way to make my businesses succeed: Kirk, Kelley, Annette, Vi, Keith and many others; and my loyal and trusting clients: Jim, Andre, Henry, Richard, Catherine, Randy… the list is too long, the riches of friendship too plentiful.

In the hours since the suspicions slipped out that “something might be wrong with Rod” (or I should say “wronger than usual with Rod”), I have felt like the Jimmy Stewart character in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Friends have poured out of the woodwork.

And as rumors started that there may be a serious problem, that I could be out of my businesses for a few weeks, that I might need to fly away for special treatment, that my insurance might not cover the bill, that I need friends to step in and help with some of my day to day responsibilities, offers to help solve any and every problem have some how found their way to me.

I’m not ashamed to tell you that I have wept many times in the last few days… Never once out of fear or concern for my life or my health… but many times out of the joy of knowing what wonderful friends I have. And, just like the movie, that to me is worth all the money in the world.

I learned two things from the blessing of Jerry Fowler’s recent experience.
First, I would have never thought of writing about this. But, if I’m able, I certainly plan to follow that lead. I’m not sure what I will write, but I will share this experience in my own way. (And I should warn you that I’m pretty sure I will attempt to mix in some humor… I just can’t help it!)

Second, near the end of Jerry’s journey in May, I learned that it’s okay to say a prayer in my own newspaper if I want to, which I did. And that, too, I will do, starting now:

“Lord, I thank you for the life you have given me, for the many friends and blessings you have showered upon me, and for making me truly feel like the luckiest man in the world. Watch over and care for all these people, your blessings to me. And, as for me, I pray only that you make me an instrument of your will. I know its not really about this life, it’s the next one… and while I sure do LIKE this one -- and would like to stay in it a while longer -- I also know I’ve had more than my share of goodness. So I’m not going to worry about myself, and just pray that you use me however you have planned for me, and I’m sure everything will work out fine. In your Sons name. Amen.”

If the Lord is willing, I’ll give you an update and let you know more next week, and every week until he says not. And I expect I can improve on the prayers I may occasionally publish… because I plan to be practicing a lot.

22 comments:

Joshua Gross said...

Rod,

Thanks for sharing this burden with us. You and your family are in my prayers and in my family's prayers.

Joshua

Anonymous said...

I AM A FRIEND OF ROSS AND HIS FAMILY AND I KNOW WHAT A WONDERFUL FAMILY YOU HAVE STANDING STRONG WITH YOU. WE WILL BE THERE FOR YOU TOO! YOU WILL BE IN OUR THOUGHTS AND WE WILL BE READING ABOUT YOUR RECOVERY SOON! DON'T LEAVE OUT THAT SENSE OF HUMOR! WE LOVE IT!

Commonman said...

God bless you and your loved ones (that are many) as you take on this challenge. You have the strength and the attitude to push through. You are in my prayers.

Sherry Martschink said...

Good column. Yes, I've shed a few tears also.

Earl Capps said...

Rod Shealy vs. Brain Cancer ... hhhmmmm ... I expect you'll have brain cancer begging for mercy before it's over.

khanks said...

Dear Poster Child,

I hope your prayers are answered. I look forward to your column week and week after week.

As the meter continues to run...I remain your friend and a rock for your dear Pat.

K.

Anonymous said...

Rod,

Thanks for the wonderful column.

I thank you for the 34 years of friendship, and I look forward to many more years to come.

You are in my prayers…

Curt loftis

Kshealy1 said...

Rod,

As a person who knows you well from both sides of the political game (you working with me and against me) I want you to know that you will be in my prayers and will ask others to do the same. We will follow your progress and remember God does work miracles, so just keep the faith.
Katrina Shealy

Caryn said...

If I ever make it back to SC, I expect that I will get my old job back at the LMN, and you will bring your guitar and some refreshing beverages, and we will all push the printing deadline to the last second and have a heckuva lot of fun doing it. Now, that may not happend for another 10 years, so you hang in there and know that there's a million prayers holding you up. You're not quite done being lucky. BEST wishes and a few tears from across the miles.

Anonymous said...

You will be in OUR PRAYERS.

My cousin, Earl Copeland, (who
works for Congressman Brown) has forwarded the request and column
about your HEALTH problem--and
wanted you to know--that we will
be including you in our prayers
that GOD WILL DIVINELY TOUCH YOU
AND HEAL YOU. (All things are possible with GOD. Luke 1:37)
May God Bless You, your family,
and ALL THE DOCTORS AND MEDICAL
PEOPLE--as they are guided in
your journey of treatment.
Take care!! Forever OUR LOVE IN CHRIST, Sara and Roy Key Chattanooga, Tennessee

Brooke Bailey said...

Rod-

My thoughts and prayers are with you. If there is anything I can do, please let me know.

Brooke

Winstons Girl said...

Rod, say it ain't so? You and Pat will be in my thoughts and prayers. Mary Pat Baldauf

Anonymous said...

Rod,

I met and worked with you when I was in grad school in Columbia in 2000 on the Dole for President campaign.

I have fond memories of that campaign, your mother and father, and you.

God bless you and know that you are in my prayers.

Marty D. Matthews
Raleigh, NC

Todd said...

Rod-

I know I speak for many when I say "we" are lucker for having a friend like you. You are in our thoughts and prayers.

Grandnina and Redding said...

We're praying for you, Rodboy! Love you so much!

Ramblin' Man said...

Thanks for your honesty and openness. My prayers are with you, and God is with you. And, as you said, all of that big ol' family is with you. It's not to be alone!

Michael Henderson

Laurin Manning said...

You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers, Rod. Beat this thing!

Best,

Laurin

vollfoot said...

Rod: You are in our thoughts and prayers. You are a tough and very caring person. We know you have the fight to get through this and get back to work.
God bless you and your family and all those good people you have looking out for you.

Tracey and Roger

Boyd Brown said...

Rod:

First, the State of South Carolina is a better place due to the many, many years of your service and leadership. Fortunately, we still look forward to many more years of your service to the political arena in the Palmetto State.

Having experienced brain cancer through my Uncle "B" over the past several years, there was a hymn in the Presbyterian Hymnal that I would turn to in dealing with the hardships, and still find myself humming it often to this day. The hymn is "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," and I hope you find as much comfort in it as I did.

I look forward to talking with you soon, but in the meantime, may Our Lord continue to bless you and your family.

With all my respect and prayers,

Boyd Brown

Bill and Brenda Bauer said...

Dear Rod,

We have always admired your skill with words, approach to life and commitment to your profession. It is not surprising to us, now, to see the optimism with which you face your newest challenge. In your dark moments, please take comfort in knowing your faith and strength are truly an inspiration to us and our family.

We appreciate the enthusiasm and determination you show in your support for Andre and thank yor for your unwavering faith in him.

We pray that you will be victorious in this campaign against cancer.

Our love,
Brenda and Bill Bauer

Anonymous said...

Rod,

A lot of thoughts come to mind when you hear news like this. Things and experiences you and I have enjoyed together, my deep respect of you and your political ability and projects you and I worked on together. I am confident that you will and already are meeting this head on and doing everything at your disposal. I know the daily prayers are many and the combination of excellent medical care and powerful prayers are mighty strong. May the Lord bless and keep you.

Richard Davis

The Original Dixie Chick said...

Big Guy- you are in my thoughts and prayers everyday. If anyone can beat this thing- it is you.

- Ashley