Of the many characteristics our namesake Minnie Pearl left as legacy for our organization, humor surely surfaces as enduring one. Laughter is great medicine and can be life-giving and re-energizing. Our Cancer Supportive Services team recognizes humor as an important means for relieving stress and lightening the spirit.
Laughing while living with cancer could sound conflicting and a near impossibility, but one visit with June Cumby proves that wrong. With a bright, infectious smile that brightens the room and with a determination to stay strong, June faces treatment for ovarian cancer yet has stayed the course with her positive, fun-loving nature.
“”I just can’t be negative,”” says June. “”Although I have both laughed and cried, I do try to stay positive.””
A few short months prior to her own diagnosis in 2008, June was devastated to lose a dear friend to lung cancer. “”I was just angry that she hadn’t stayed on top of things and that she just seemed to be giving up and not doing everything that she could. I didn’t want to lose her but I did, and I still miss being able to talk and laugh with her,”” says June.
In the final few months of her friend’s life, June knew something was wrong with her own health. With an elevated white blood count and changing, unexplainable eating difficulties, June’s doctor confirmed ovarian cancer that also presents intestinal complications. Previously claiming she would never have cancer, chemotherapy, or a colostomy, June faced her new reality of multiple surgeries, months of chemotherapy, and a colostomy with strength and, yes, humor.
June turned her weekly chemotherapy appointments with her sister, Myrna, as opportunities for fun visits and lunch outings as well as friendly gatherings with others going through treatment. “”I decided I would look forward to it each week and, once completed, even missed what had become social times with other patients and medical staff through those treatment schedules,”” says June. She even assigned “”pet”” names to her chemotherapy port and to her colostomy and found doing so made the discomfort and inconvenience more bearable. She claims her port “”Portia”” was never “”cooperative”” until it had a name. June claims no story about her cancer journey would be complete without mentioning her dear friend Neva, who has been her tireless caregiver at home and companion on fun outings.
June has embraced many of the services offered by The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation (MPCF), an organization she notes has been a bright spot in her journey. June is an avid Minnie Pearl fan and has taken advantage of social work and nutrition support and guidance through our nonprofit’s offerings. A fan of art projects, she recently poured her energy into a MPCF journaling class.
Hearing a bit of June’s background sheds some light on her perpetual energy and bright optimism. A huge fan of rodeos, June even indulged in barrel-racing “”just for fun”” throughout the Southeast for a time. Yet it’s not been all fun and games. She achieved a college degree at the age of 46 and has worked at a Convention & Visitors’ Bureau planning countless events. She is particularly proud of the eight years she spent as an adult vocational education teacher teaching computer software to women with low income and equallylow self esteem, which are issues that tug at her heart. She says teaching them about business etiquette and positive attitude in order to have hope for their futures was the most important mentoring work she’s ever done. She would someday like to transfer all her life experiences into launching a means for assisting women with ovarian cancer.
During difficult and challenging times, laughter and humor often go by the wayside. It is not always appropriate, or easy, to laugh while living with cancer and the challenges it brings. June, however, seems to know how to make laughter a part of each day with her bright spirit and fun stories. Thank you, June, for sharing your gift of laughter and humor with all of us.
In memory of June Cumby, who passed away since this story was published. We are honored to have shared in June’s journey.