RIPLEY – If she wasn’t so grateful to be alive, Linda Crum would probably have succumbed to grief a long time ago.
Each day the Ripley resident lives is a testament to her fierce gratitude, and to the unbreakable bonds of family, bonds that have held fast under what people without Crum’s strong Christian faith might call a curse.
Over the past 20 years cancer has claimed four members of Crum’s close family. Two died from breast cancer, including Crum’s sister and her young niece, who was only 29.
The disease first took Crum’s older brother, Ezra, who died of stomach cancer in 1992.
Crum and her sister, Wanda, are both in remission from breast cancer, along with their brother, Jerry, who survived prostate cancer, but the impact of the dreaded illness and the mystery of why it has ravaged their family is never far from their minds, nor from those of their six siblings.
Throughout the ordeal, Crum has taken comfort in her belief that life and death are ultimately in God’s hands.
“You may not believe it, but I really don’t worry. I just don’t,” said Crum, a member of Springdale Baptist Church in Ripley who’s been cancer free for 13 years.
“I just believe that life always has a purpose,” she said. “Everything happens in God’s time.”
If Crum lives to be 100, she’ll never forget being there with her brother when he got the devastating news that he had six months to live.
“The look on Ezra’s face – oh lord – I’ll just never forget it,” said Crum.
Two years later, breast cancer took Crum’s older sister, Imogene.
It was about that time that Jennifer Williams, the daughter of Crum’s sister, Wanda Hodum, was diagnosed.
“Jennifer was just so young. Nobody really thought it could be anything like this,” said Hodum, the wife of a Pentecostal preacher, whose grandson was only a year old when Jennifer got the diagnosis.
“Jennifer was a musician – gifted. She could play anything – the guitar, the saxophone, the piano – all beautifully,” said Hodum. Their daughter grew up playing and singing in her father’s churches.
Jennifer underwent treatment immediately after she was diagnosed, and everyone thought her illness was in remission. In the spring of 1997, however, she started complaining of poor vision and headaches. She died on August 4.
“We’re just not designed to bury our children,” said Hodum, who, 13 years after her daughter’s death, and almost simultaneously with her sister, Crum, was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma.
Hodum and her sister ultimately chose the same treatment, a double mastectomy, a choice that, according to Crum, is never easy, even for the most modest women.
In 2001 lung cancer ended the life of yet another of Hodum and Crum’s siblings, their sister, Viola. Viola’s daughter, however, Diane Voyles, is a breast cancer survivor and at 59 is alive and doing well.
Over the years Crum has expressed her gratitude for life by working with Relay for Life, the National Breast Cancer Foundation and Reach to Recovery, which pairs breast cancer patients with people who’ve survived the same experience.
The incredibly high incidence of cancer in Crum’s family has also prompted her, along with her niece, Diane Voyles, to donate a blood sample to the Mayo Clinic. Researches there hope to uncover what role genetics has played in the family’s ordeal with the illness.
The results may be a long time coming, but each year, on the last Saturday in March, the family gathers for a meal at a local fish and steak house. They come together to remember Crum’s mother’s birthday.
The seven siblings and their kinfolks also pay tribute to those who’ve died, and they give thanks for the gifts of children, faith and hope.
“There are kids and grandkids all over the place,” said Crum. “We just have a big, old time.”
GALEN HOLLEY / NEMS Daily Journal