WAID’S WORLD: How a Meeting With Gordon Lifted One Man’s Spirit
Please allow me to get personal. I don’t do this very often at all.
I am going to tell a story I first told five years ago. It was at the time I was first pronounced cancer-free. But I was not declared cured. That would come after five years of doctor visits, physical therapy and, in my case, neck surgery.
This week I went to the doctor for the last time. He told me it had been five years since I ended my chemo and radiation treatments. The cancer had not returned and it was very likely it wouldn’t.
“Don’t even bother going to checkout,” the doctor said. “Just go. And good luck.”
During those five years I had been myself. I was upbeat, nearly always in spirited moods and never sullen. I didn’t give cancer a second thought.
But after leaving the doctor’s office I barely made it back to my car before a wave of euphoria swept over me. I had never felt anything like it in my life.
I was free. There would be no more trips to the doctor, therapy or anything else to remind me I still was under the dark cloud of cancer. That cloud had dissipated and all was clear and bright.
It was much different one day in the summer of 2011. After radiation treatments in the bowels of Northeast Medical Center in Concord, N.C., I felt depressed and spiritually broken for the first time.
I wondered why cancer struck me. I asked myself what did I do to deserve the scourges of dry mouth, an inability to swallow properly, a dramatic loss of weight and a tube implanted in my stomach?
I stepped off the elevator and my eyes immediately focused on a colorful sign that read, “Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital.”
I had seen it many times, but now I was intrigued. I had to see this place.
I went up a flight of steps and walked down a hall with rooms on either side. I felt like intruder but no one stopped me.
I saw children in beds, some quiet, some animated. Many were smiling. I didn’t need to ask. I knew several of them were inflicted with cancer, most likely worse than mine.
I stopped feeling sorry for myself – and I never did again. How could I dare not do so given what these children, and their parents, had to endure?
Treatments ended in July and I decided to go to the race at Richmond in September. I was still weak and eating solid food was something of a chore, but I was determined to go.
Once there, my media friends and associates welcomed me back. It felt good to again be part of the sometimes hectic world of motorsports journalism.
I had made arrangements to speak with Gordon in his hauler that afternoon.
Once I got there, Gordon said, “Hi Steve. Are you doing OK?”
“I am,” I replied.
Then he came up to me, put his hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye and said, “No. I mean …. Are you OK?”
I admit I choked up. He knew. “Yes,” I stammered.
Gordon told me that the hospital was opened in 2006 to serve children in the community with a high level of primary and specialty care, regardless of their ability to pay. I didn’t know that.
Gordon said the hospital is focused on children and pediatric research and treatment as well as caring for children who are battling any type of injury or illness.
He added that because of its location many of his Hendrick Motorsports team members as well as other members of the NASCAR community are able to have their children treated at the hospital.
“They have told me their children were treated like gold,” Gordon said. “I get letters all the time from people who say thank you for building this hospital. I didn’t build it but it’s nice to know I had a hand in it.
“It’s the ones who work there that do a terrific job. That is what it is all about.”
Gordon and his family have been frequent visitors at the hospital, especially during the holiday season. They are personally involved.
Of course, there are many drivers with foundations designed for charitable services to many causes.
The NASCAR community itself is dedicated to charity.
And I have learned that it cares so much for its own. I experienced that first hand not only at Richmond, but also overwhelmingly so after I posted that I was cured.
My conversation with Gordon, now retired and an analyst for Fox race broadcasts, is forever etched in my memory.
And now so is my firm belief that in NASCAR, and among its fans, there are more good people than bad. There are more that care than don’t.
They, and I, will be there for those who continue to fight for their lives and the day when their five years are done.
EMAIL STEVE AT firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid
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