|I’m going to tell you what Virginia Steele means to me.
Several people kept telling me about this wonderful woman who has been with WINGS since the beginning. I finally got to meet her at their Polo charity event. After speaking with her for two minutes, I could tell Virginia was not only one of the brightest people I’ve ever met, but also one of the most loving and giving people I have ever had the pleasure to encounter.
Virginia was originally diagnosed in 1994 with a rare type of cancer. The cancer she has is usually diagnosed in people when they are 60 years old, not in their thirties. When she was diagnosed, she asked God to at least let her know her children and to let them know her. Twenty-two years later, it is obvious God held up his side of the request.
While Virginia still lives with the disease, she spends her days inspiring others by writing books to encourage people facing cancer and speaking with them about their personal fight.
The main reason why we chose Virginia to be one of our honorees is that after 22 years, she has not grown bitter with having to face this disease. Virginia has become more loving and giving. She is the embodiment of human compassion in times of despair. Every time I talk to her I feel like a better person because the love in her voice just spills out into everything she does.
I thank you Virginia Steele for being a part of this journey with us. I thank you for helping me understand that while cancer can be a bitter pill to swallow, you can also find gratefulness through the disease by getting to meet so many wonderful people who change you along the way. You have definitely changed me for the better.
|John “Bad Dog” McCormack was a powerhouse and meant so very much to me.
While I never knew him personally and was just a fan, the one thing I will always remember about him is his unbelievable laugh. When you heard him laugh you could not help but smile.
The reason we picked Bad Dog as one of our honorees is because of his great service to the cancer community and the Ronald McDonald House. This is a man who was diagnosed with cancer who would still go and visit children while he was undergoing chemotherapy himself. Bad Dog let them know it was okay to lose their hair because he too had lost his throughout his treatment. That was such a selfless, humane and loving act by a man who lived his life to the fullest.
Bad Dog ultimately lost his battle with cancer, but his legacy and impact still remain with us. Every year there is a radio-thon for the Ronald McDonald House. Anytime this event takes place, it feels empty without hearing John as a part of it. However, his laughter and love still shower this event that continues to share his passion for those children battling for their lives.
I am so honored that Tim McCormack and his family accepted for him to be among our group of honorees for 2016. Courage Thru Cancer is a group of people trying to inspire others to fight. There is no way to have this group without one of cancer’s greatest fighters! I salute you John “Bad Dog” McCormack, and I thank you for being such a great example for so many to follow in your footsteps.
|I want to tell you about one of my biggest inspirations, Teri Trotter.
Almost 8 years ago, Teri was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a mother two children, I’m sure it was a frightening diagnosis for her and her husband to take. Teri, however, did something remarkable. Not waiting for chemo to take full effect and lose her hair gradually, she shaved her head. When it came time to go out with friends one night, she donned a pink wig and the rest is history.
How many people think of others first when diagnosed with a deadly disease? How many people take a diagnosis and turn it around? How many people create an organization to let women feel empowered to face their crisis head on with swagger and pride? Not many, but Teri Trotter did, and she still does today.
Teri initiated the Pink Wig Project event which raises money to give women fighting cancer pink wigs, raises awareness for genetic testing and also helps the West Clinic with more private patient care facilities during cancer treatments.
Teri does all this while still battling cancer. Her selfless, humane, compassionate, and loving traits are an inspiration to everyone who knows her. She is my role model by showing me how to give back with a smile and style while facing a crisis head on. I am so grateful that I have gotten to know Teri and most of all, I am so grateful to have someone to emulate by giving back to others, no matter what your situation is.
Thank you, Teri, for being a part of our mission, and I thank you on behalf of all cancer families for giving us a light in the darkness. It glows brightly to everyone around you.
|I want to tell you about my friend Gina Hollenbeck.
Two weeks after our event last year, two different people told me of an amazing woman whom I’d never met. Both lamented the story of a fitness nut, who never smoked a day in her life, diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
Gerry Finney says that these stage categories are just numbers. He says that these numbers are given by doctors and scientists but they aren’t your personal number. However, whenever you hear stage 4 and lung cancer in the same sentence, it’s usually a very serious situation.
Gerry and Jeff Fioranelli had the opportunity to meet Gina first. They both told me that she and her husband, Greg Hollenbeck were absolutely electric. They said Gina can light up a room with her smile. The first time I saw Gina, I thought my wife Courtney had a long-lost sister. Once I heard her testimony about what she was facing, I knew that I had met my female Gerry Finney.
Something within Gina’s lungs is shooting tumors into her brain. She calls these tumors, “Little Richards.” She was able to knock out the first batch of tumors and was in remission over the summer. Unfortunately, the tumors came back. The hope is that in recent tests that these tumors will just be, “Little Ricks.”
Gina’s faith is captivating. While statistically stage 4 lung cancer is not curable, the words she spoke in her video really tell you everything you need to know about Gina Hollenbeck, “My doctor originally said it’s not curable, but he doesn’t know me and he doesn’t know God.”
While I know there are times that she must have various points of concern, her confidence and faith shine through everything.
Gina has a support team behind her referred to as, “Gina’s Army.” Her army spreads far and wide. The love shown to her is truly remarkable and just screams out how much she means to so many people. Most people call Gina, “Wonder Woman.” While this amazing human being looks like she’s jumped out of the comic book pages into all of our lives, the warrior spirit shines through in everything she does.
Gina Hollenbeck is an inspiration. Gina is a warrior. Gina is one of God’s children. She is both an incredible mother and wife. She is an incredible friend. Most of all, she is a survivor. Her battle continues but she has her entire army behind her. She will never face this battle alone. No matter what obstacles are placed in front of her, Gina will overcome them all with a smile and grace.
So, to my female Gerry Finney, for all these reasons you are one of our honorees this year. One of the greatest things that happened to Courtney and me this year is getting to become friends with you and Greg. We may have known you for less than a year, but you both make us feel that we have been in your lives forever. You are both very special people and you have our love and friendship forever. Congratulations on this honor and thank you for being such a great inspiration to so many people.
|I want to tell you about my friends, Debbi Jacobson Allen and her daughter. Allie. Courtney and I were watching the CMA Awards and we saw this pretty girl who was a guest of some artist I did not know. This girl was dressed up and looked so happy but she didn’t have any hair. It turned out that the girl was a St. Jude patient who had been battling cancer in her brain.
That was the last I saw of her for a while.
Fast forward to that August and we were about to start promoting our event. I got a call from Greg Hollenbeck and Gina Hollenbeck about a friend of theirs we really needed to include for the event. Not only was the girl from the CMA’S one of the people they were talking about, but her mother, Debbi as well. At first I thought they heard them incorrectly. I said to myself, “Did he really just say the daughter AND mother?”
While Allie was battling her cancer at St Jude, Debbie went in for a checkup and discovered that she had breast cancer. At the same time that her daughter was fighting for her life, now she had a battle of her own to face. My mind immediately went to that place. How could one possibly have the strength and fortitude to fight their own battle while having worry and concern over their child? To this day I still can’t wrap my mind around that. How much does one family have to endure?
Debbi’s husband, Eric is now burdened with worry over his child and now his wife. When you look up the word perseverance in the dictionary you will see a picture of Eric next to it. To hear Eric talk about the situation that he has faced alongside his wife and daughter makes me want to give him a special award all of his own. His confidence, love and understanding are astounding. You never hear bitterness from the Allens. You hear gratefulness. This indeed is a special family.
Allie has done everything to live a normal life of a teenager while still fighting for her life. She was voted Homecoming Queen at Houston High School. However, doctors discovered another tumor in her brain. Since she’s already had radiation she can’t have it done again. Allie continues her fight while Debbi has been deemed clear.
There is no way to have this event without including Debbi and Allie. When starting this movement, I always thought about the individuals having to fight. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that a family would have to fight two battles at the same time. I know the Allen Family wished this had never happened to them, but the fact that it did is the reason why we honor them. Their message is one of gratefulness… gratefulness for every second of every day that they have with one another. There is no greater lesson when battling this deadly disease.
The Allens will be a part of my life forever. It’s hard for me to even remember my life without knowing their names. Their impact on my life has been one of the more overwhelming things I have had happen in my life. I am so grateful to have them as our joint honoree.
I’m so thankful for the inspiration that they give to everyone who hears their story. Continued prayers for you both!
|I want to tell you about my friend Adam Cruthirds.
My friend, Christy Barzizza Yarbro told me about this incredible young man who attends her church. Even though we had not even held our first event, she said that I definitely needed to consider Adam Cruthirds as one of our honorees for 2016.
After returning home from a summer camp trip two years ago, Adam wasn’t feeling right. Something was off. His family took him to the doctor and that night they were notified that Adam had leukemia. He didn’t know what leukemia was. Everyone around him was crying and worried. He just simply asked, “What’s leukemia?” The doctor responded that it was cancer. Then Adam said, “Okay, so what are we going to do?”
The type of leukemia treatment that Adam needed was supposed to be the best option. Unfortunately for Adam, his body rejected the treatment. Doctors then told his family there was another method but it would cost $2.5 million dollars to treat him. Adam was told he would have to take some form of chemotherapy every single day for two and a half years. So, for 2 years he’s been taking chemo. St Jude is paying the entire bill.
This is not even half the story. Unlike most people that go through treatments like this, Adam wanted to do something special. He wanted to pay St. Jude back the 2.5 million dollars they were paying to save his life. So while undergoing treatment, he started pulling around a Red Rider wagon and began going door-to-door asking for donations to St. Jude. In the first year he raised almost $100,000. That was while Adam was 16 and 17 years old. What teenager facing this kind of crisis becomes so selfless that he wants to help others in spite of his own situation?
Adam now attends Rhodes College. Adam has now raised over $250,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
I cannot fathom how many other people when facing this kind of crisis immediately starts thinking about helping others. That is why Adam is so unique. That is why Adam is so special. That is why Adam is one of our 2016 honorees.
Adam said in his video that he looks at himself as the, “Voice for the voiceless.” Ever since I heard that line in his video it has stuck in my head. Everything you think about in the word courageous is captured in that line. I am absolutely humbled by Your Inner Strength Adam Cruthirds. I am so glad Christy told me about you. I’m so glad you and your mother met with me. With everything else that you have going on in your life, your whole life is about helping the greater good. Adam, congratulations on this honor and I know there’s just going to be more and more to come in your future.
|I want to tell you about my friend, Harold Byrd.
I met Harold for the first time on a group trip to Cannes in 2000. He and his brother Bob Byrd became quick friends with me there. The laughs we shared will last a lifetime.
If you have ever been to a Tiger basketball game then you have seen the Byrd Brothers in action. There’s not a referee or an opposing coach that hasn’t caught their good-natured ribbing. Harold has given back to the University of Memphis ten times over and is as great of an ambassador for the school.
Harold’s whole life has involved the Bank of Bartlett. He and his brothers started the bank. Harold has been a success in business and in politics. In 2008, his successes were put to the test.
At a routine check-up with his doctor, it was discovered that he had colorectal cancer. That must have come as a complete shock considering how well he’s always taken care of himself with exercise and diet. Harold’s intensive treatment spanned over 30 weeks.
The great news is after all the treatments, he beat his cancer. Harold has made a full recovery, his life is back to normal and he is still going strong.
The reason we honor Harold with our event is that he is a shining example for all successful people to never take their eyes off of their health. You can be blessed with all the money in the world but if you are not taking care of yourself, what do you really have? Harold went through his treatment and still continued to smile. He showed others his personal strength and how to get through treatment.
I am so thankful that this city has such a shining example like Harold Byrd. You can get knocked down, but you can always get up. My friend not only got up but he conquered! We are humbled to be in your presence my friend! Congratulations on this honor that you so richly deserve! Your example saves lives. There’s no greater gift you can give anyone else.
|I want to tell you about my friend Brian Churchill.
I met him through work. The one thing I will always remember about him was his smile. The guy was always smiling around work. His company, Churchill Studios, shot all of our dealership’s commercials.
A few years back, I noticed Brian wasn’t there for some shoots but I didn’t think anything of it. It was not until we started our inaugural event that I was told Brian had passed away from colon cancer. My heart sank. I spent time around Brian and enjoyed a working relationship with him yet, I was so wrapped up in my own bubble that I didn’t realize what was going on with him.
You can always tell how great someone is by the company they keep. Brian worked with a wonderful person named Joel Canady, who now runs the company under the original name. Joel is the one who helped us with the commercials and he came up with this amazing idea of shooting videos to tell each honoree’s story. With over77-thousand views in 2 short months, the impact was made.
Brian wanted to help WINGS after he faced his battle. He did not get to do this task while he was on this earth. However, his wish has come true through Joel. Brian’s desire to help others in spite of his own battle says all you need to know about his heart. I wish I had known him better, but I am so thankful because without him, I wouldn’t have gotten to know Joel. So we honor Brian for his contribution to our project, and we are thankful that Andreah, his wife, is getting to see his wish fulfilled.