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                  WHY *NOT* ME !!!

When faced with tragedy, many of us ask, “Why me ?” Not Nancy
Muirhead. She asked “Why *not* me ?

I had a big crush on Nancy when she and I were students at Baylor
University, a college in Texas. She had spunk and style that went beyond
that of most young ladies in the mid-1970s. Even then, I must have
realized that all people are special. But Nancy was more special than
most. For some indefinable reason, I knew that she was a winner. In
every college trial she proved it over and over again.

She was not a person to play a game; she always played to win. I
remember the way she would bite her bottom  lip when she was hurt or
mad. This would happen if she made a bad grade on a test, struck out in a
softball game or had a fight with her boyfriend. When she stuck that lip
out, I always knew that she would bounce back and win. Nancy was no
more talented or gifted than other people I knew; she just had more
guts, more spirit. In a room filled with people, she stood out. When other
people sparked, she glowed ! Yet, whenever, you were with her, even in a
group, she always made you feel like you were the most important person
there.

When I graduated from Baylor in 1975, Nancy was the one person I knew
who would take the world by storm. Whatever wall she faced, this
five-foot-one-inch  dynamo would climb. Whatever goal she set her blue
eyes on, she would reach, I had no doubt.

As is so often the case when graduation takes you away to the real world,
I lost track of this spunky little lady from Houston. One college
homecoming, my wife and I saw Nancy for a few minutes at any alumni
coffee. I remember thinking she looked thin. But the moment, she turned
my way, she greeted me with a fire in her eyes and a huge smile. I knew
that my college predictions about Nancy must have been right on track.

As we talked, I discovered that she was teaching first-graders.
I couldn’t help thinking that those six-year olds would learn more from
Nancy than just how to read, she would make them feel special and teach
them how to be winners.

Were it not for a meeting with her father in the summer of 1985, I
might have never made contact with Nancy again. Listening to her father,
I began to understand just how high life’s walls had been for my college
classmate. It was at this point that she began to teach me a profound
lesson about living.

I learnt that Nancy had spent several weeks at Houston’s M.D. Andersen
Hospital having a cancerous tumor and infected kidney removed. Weeks of
intensive radiation therapy followed. A mental picture came into my mind
of her biting that bottom lip, gritting her teeth and facing this painful
ordeal with the same determination she had exhibited in college. I could
see her encouraging the doctors, telling her mother not to worry, and
asking her brothers if they didn’t have something better to do than hang
around the hospital. Then I found out there was more to her story than
one surgery.

Seven years earlier, Nancy and cancer had battled. That war had not
been an easy one. Cancer had taken from her the opportunity to have
children, but it proved no match for her strength and spirit. She beat it,
knocked it down for the ten count. Cancer had tucked its tail and run to
find a safe hiding place. Cancer hid for more than six years, long enough
for Nancy to get the all-clear from her doctors. During this time, she
fell in love, married a wonderful guy, continued to teach and settled into
an active life in Ennis, Texas. Her energy and enthusiasm for life filled
her classroom, her church and her home. And then, just months before
she and her husband, Joe, were to adopt a child, cancer cruelly hit her
again.

It was after this attack, after that chance meeting with her father,
that I once again began to visit with this remarkable lady. Most of our
visits were by phone. But on those rare occasions when we weren’t running
in five different directions at the same time, we could get together face
to face. During the course of rebuilding our friendship, Nancy lost weight
and gained maturity. In personality and determination, she was still the
same as she had always been, ready to fight the odds to win. To her,
there was never any question. She seemed unimpressed with the courage
she had shown.

She seemed much more concerned about being  at her best when the
school year rolled around. She didn’t care if she was weak, she had a job
to do, and nothing was going to stop her. As she told me, “I’ve got kids to
teach, so I have to get well fast.” Teaching those kids was her goal.
Nancy achieved that goal. She was weak and frail and constantly worn
out, but no one would have guessed it. She had energy in her step and an
enthusiasm in her voice. In the other teachers’ minds she was unstoppable
Nancy. Knowing that she was battling so much more without as much a
single complaint, none of them could complain about sinus conditions or late
hours of grading papers. In this way, she inspired her co-workers to do
better than they had ever done before. Never had the Ennis school
system worked so well.

Nancy was able to teach for only a few months when she received another
round of bad news. The radiation treatments that had stopped her cancer
had damaged some of her internal organs. More operations were needed,
surgery that would alter her diet forever. Most of the foods she loved,
she would never get to taste again. Yet she just tossed it all off, and she
re-adjusted her lifestyle. “No big deal,” she would say. And even though
all of us should have known better, we tended to believe her words,
because she said them with such authority.

I once asked her if she ever wondered,:”Why me ?” Her simple reply will
serve as an inspiration to me for as long as I live.

“I used to ask that, but then I began to take stock of my situation and
began to ask, Why *not* me ? If this hadn’t happened to me, it might
have happened to someone I love. I wouldn’t want anyone I know to have
to deal with this. I was made strong so I’ll take it. I’ll fight it and I’ll
beat it.”

I immediately began applying Nancy’s faith and hope to my own small
problems and challenges. I quickly discovered that life doesn’t really have
any bad  breaks, only opportunities for growth and learning. The more I
took this philosophy to heart, the more success I had.

I stayed in touch with Nancy. During one visit, she asked me, “Do you
remember in college all the times you asked me out and I always had
other plans?” I laughed and said yes. “Well,” she continued, “If I die
before you do, I’ll make you one of my pallbearers. Then you’ll finally get
to take me out!” We both laughed.

I believed that after this battle Nancy would bounce back and assume the
break-neck pace she had always maintained. She almost did. In late
1986, she took a new test required by the state of Texas for the re-
certification of teachers. She passed with flying colors. But her
celebration was short lived. She was forced to put off her dreams of
teaching for a while longer. Cancer had come calling for a third time. This
time it hit her liver.

Late in March 1987, I telephoned Nancy. As always, she made me feel
like I was the most important person in the world. It was a gift she still
had. Nancy and I joked for a while on that visit, talked about how much
we looked forward to things that were coming up. I ended our conversation
by telling her how much my wife and I loved her. She just quietly giggled.

A week later, on a beautiful spring-like day, my college crush kept her
promise. She allowed me to take her out - as a pallbearer at her funeral.
As I looked around at those in attendance, I felt, not sadness but joy.
Maybe it was because her life of 33 years showed me how to live. Her
funeral was a wonderful celebration of  her wit, her love and her faith.
Because Nancy had made each of us feel singularly special, she had passed
on to us, the secret of her winning edge.

Not long before she died, Nancy had shared with a young person battling
cancer these words:

     Take advantage of everything that cancer has to offer you. It will
give you a chance to challenge yourself and find the limits of your
strengths and faith. You will have an opportunity to get to know a whole
new group of people whose lives are filled with trauma and sadness, and
you can bring hope and joy to them by sharing your faith.
     By getting the chance to fight this disease, you can find out just how
special each moment and each person is. Because you will know firsthand
what it is like to have it threatened, you will come to a complete
understanding of just how sweet life really should, and can, be.
      Remember you can carry the load you’ve been given and, by doing so,
you will help someone else carry his. You have been given the rare
privilege, put in the wonderful situation, of being an inspiration. Latch onto
this responsibility and give it everything you’ve got. If you do, you will win !

Nancy was one such winner. She possessed more life, more heart and
more soul than anyone I have ever met. But more importantly, she didn’t
selfishly hang onto these possessions; she freely gave them all to
everyone she touched. Each student, each friend and each family member
felt like Nancy lived only for the, and so they gave back their best to
her. She proved that a winner’s love never runs out, and a winner’s touch
never ends.

A decade has gone by since she died and people are still remembering
Nancy. But they’re not talking about the events in her life. Rather, they
talk about her spirit, and how it seems fresher and more alive with each
passing day.

Nancy believed that everyone could touch every moment of life in a good
way or in a bad way. She chose the former. I now realize that the
sparkle in her eyes, the energy in her step, even the glow of her
personality, came not from within, but from on high.

Happily married as I am, I still have a crush on Nancy. I know I’m not
alone.

- Andrew Collins