The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

May 6, 2013

With much thanks and love …


TARBORO — The past month has been interesting, to say the least.

As I grew up, my first cousins — a group of us that have simply been referred to as “The Cousins” would often joke that when we died, we knew it would be as the result of a heart attack. That’s the history of the Walker family and my Dad and his seven brothers and sisters, as heir parents had, died of heart-related issues.

But along the way, something else happened, Cousins Joyce, Dudley, Don, Kenneth, Howard and Jimmy all died after a courageous battle with cancer.

Dudley and Don and Jimmy and Howard were brothers. But we were much more than cousins. We were a true Southern family in that no matter how far away we might move, we always wound up back at Granny Walker’s.

As youngsters in the 1950s, we fought the axis powers from World War II in her pastures. We fought over the churn as she would churn buttermilk on the back porch and we would heed her warning to watch out for snakes when we would go collect eggs in the chicken house.

Joyce was old enough — and I young enough — that her death didn’t register with me as the others.

The heart issues and the battles with cancer all kind of came together Saturday morning as we survivors walked that closing lap at Relay for Life.

You see, abut a month before the time we were taking to the track at Tarboro High School for that closing lap, the Edgecombe County Rescue Squad was pulling up in front of our house as I sat — dead left arm and mostly in a daze — after suffering a stroke.

Today, I’m the only cousin to have survived my battles with cancer and cardiac issues. I don’t know what the Lord has in store, but I’m thankful He has included me in His plan and continues to watch over me.

On that last lap, I couldn’t help but think about Cousin Howard, who was a researcher at the University of Iowa and was probably the most loyal reader any writer could ever want. He and I battled cancer at the same time and would talk late at night when his wife, Beth, worked at the U o I and my wife, Stephanie, worked critical care transport for Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

There were times we solved the problems of the world and there were others when, on a night before a Hawkeye football game, he would want to know “did Uncle Horace (my Dad) teach you how to boil peanuts?” He did and I shared it with Howard.

There were other times when we confided in one another that we knew what the name of the chemotherapy drug we were both on stood for. It was 5FU.

Sorry. I realize this is a family newspaper.

But on that last lap, I remembered that Howard, who was a gentle giant with an ever-present smile, said that cancer would not kill him — because he would take his cancer to the grave with him.

Medical professionals are quick to tell you that what they do is their calling and they need no special thanks. I know that because that’s what my wife tells others.

“It’s what I choose to do,” they say, almost embarrassed that someone has acknowledged the skills the Lord has placed within them.

There are so many “what ifs” in my story … what if my wife hadn’t gotten my 911 text? What if the rescue squad had taken but a few minutes longer? What if Dr. Weathers and the ED crew hadn’t done what they did so very well? What of the medical staff on the third floor and the fourth floor and the rehab staff?

What a blessing we, as a community, have in our hospital and its facilities.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a Monday column that related the fact I thought Tarboro felt like home.

Today, I feel that even more strongly after friends and absolute strangers alike would come by to tell me they had heard I had suffered a stroke and my wife and I were in their prayers.

I learned a long time ago to not try and name names in a column because, try as you might, you’ll forget someone and the last thing I want to do now is forget anyone who helped me along the way.

I’ll tell you, though … I was right. It DOES feel like home.

To everyone who helped me get to this point — and to my co-workers at The Daily Southerner — thank you for you love and support.

To my wife … thank God for you … and to Bridget, our 6-year-old rescue Lab, everlasting ear scratches and shoulder rubs for helping me get up those steps to where I could get to those aspirin.

God is good every day and every day, God is good.

From our family to you and yours, thank you for your love, support and prayers.

(John H. Walker is editor and publisher of The Daily Southerner and can be reached at 823-3106 or