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Vaught’s note:Long-time vaughtsviews.com follower Jo Ann Rice is one of the most loyal, enthusiastic UK fans I know — and a dear friend. However, life changes — rectal cancer — helped give her a whole different perspective on Saturday’s game. Enjoy this moving guest post and say a little prayer for my Big Blue buddy.
By Jo Ann Rice
It may be a bit of an understatement to say that the loss to WKU was a disappointment. I have to admit that I was prepared for the outcome and personally think it may have been for the best for the future of our program. As a true-blue UK fan, I know all too well what it feels like to watch our football team lose — a lot! We all know that the Cats will never be the powerhouse in football that we are in basketball. But that doesn’t keep me from putting on my Kentucky blue and going to the games to cheer on my team. Every week, hope springs eternal. Maybe this would be the week that we experience that unexpected gridiron victory.
Any football season-ticket holder can tell you that they enjoy tailgating at Commonwealth Stadium. After all, what happens in the parking lots can be as much an event—if not more—than what happens on the field. I’m no different. I like to get to the stadium as early as possible so that I can make the rounds. Yesterday, we had a wonderful time visiting friends and family in the RV lot. The Akers always have an incredible spread that includes my all-time favorite, Oysters Rockefeller! It was wonderful having our oldest son, Evan, there to make me laugh like a fool at almost anything he says. The only way it could have been better would have been to also have our youngest son, Alex, there with us. I loved the food, the laughter, the country music, the corn-hole games, and the sea of Kentucky blue.
When I first got to my seat Saturday, there was one other man sitting at the far end of the row. In a matter of minutes, the other loyal fans that have been sitting around me for several years also took their seats. Like me, they’ve watched both the exciting wins and the humiliating losses. When there is a great play, it’s high fives all around. When things get ugly, their analysis of the play is always entertaining.
I enjoy going to the games because I love the excitement of college football and all that goes with it including tailgating, talking with the people in the stands and watching the competition on the field. I think the same opinions would be shared by those that sit around me. All of this made me think more specifically about the people that I see at our home games.
First of all, there is Kim Harrod, a friend I met 35 years ago when we were freshmen living in Case Hall on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus. I never make game day plans without contacting Kim. Because we’ve been friends for so long, our children have also grown up together. Last year, we even had a bit of a family reunion at the UK-Tennessee game over the Thanksgiving holiday. She wasn’t there Saturday, however, because she was with her mother in Toledo helping her as she recovers from Meniere’s Disease. I wish Mrs. Jones the very best in her recovery and with her possible move to Southern Indiana to be closer to Kim and her husband, Bill.
The woman that always sits to my right is Maresa Fawns from Shelbyville. She has coveted my lucky blue furry scarf for years! I’ll never forget going to a Music City Bowl Game in Nashville and as I made my way through the crowd, it was her hand that unexpectedly reached out and grabbed my scarf as if she was going to steal it! It was all in good humor, of course, but she shares my appreciation for the scarf’s charms. She wasn’t there either. Maresa lost her father recently and the funeral was last week. I do hope to see her at the next home game in two weeks. We’ll have lots of catching up to do!
The men who sit behind me, Phillip Johnson and Justin Ford, are Lexington Catholic graduates. There is always a lot of good-natured ribbing about me being from Boyle County and our outstanding football program, especially the tight ends that have joined the ranks of UK. They often remind me that BCHS cost them the state championship when they played football in high school. We all question why Jordan Aumiller isn’t playing more and we used to love to cheer on Lexington Catholic graduate, Winston Guy. So at the end of the day, all other allegiances go by the wayside as we cheer on the Cats. Phillip has also experienced a major life change since last season. He is a blissfully happy newlywed and I enjoyed meeting his bride, Nicole.
I like knowing that if I look over my left shoulder, I see my college friends, Kim and Bill Harrod. In front and to the right is my pharmacy school buddy, Neil Taylor. If I look over my right shoulder, I see Paul and Denise DeLuca while in front and to the left are John and Martha Caywood, all of Danville. Much like a teacher in a classroom, I look around and take attendance to see who is present and who is absent. Whether these folks realize it or not, they greatly enrich my experience of college game day at Commonwealth Stadium.
It was different going to Saturay night’s game, however, and it had nothing to do with the team’s loss. I knew it the moment I started trying to sing “My Old Kentucky Home”. Daddy always said that a true Kentuckian would feel a lump in their throat when they heard the opening chords of the most beautiful state song ever written. But this was more than a lump in the throat. It was all much more bittersweet than I expected. I kept thinking about all of the things in my life that I absolutely love with all of my heart.
If you know me at all, obviously there is the deep and abiding love for my family and my Christian faith. I love the richness that friends add to the quality of our lives. I love the professional challenges of my job and getting to see the people that I work with each day. I love being involved in various activities within our community. I also love and thoroughly enjoy the things that make my life fun, ordinary and normal. I love being busy and rarely having a free minute in the day. Forgive me if you’ve heard me say this before but I want to continue loving and enjoying all of this until I’m 100 years old!
Saturday night I realized that by and large, if my achy knees would hold out and if there were enough hours in the day, I had been able to fully enjoy virtually every minute of my day and my life. You’ve often heard it said that if you have your health, you have everything. It is so very, very true.
As the scoreboard numbers clicked upward, I thought of a different type of scorecard. By the time I go to the next home football game, I realized my scorecard would tell me that I have had 7 radiation treatments and have 21 more to go. I will officially be on my way in the treatment of rectal cancer. I wondered how many of the football games I’ll get to attend. I thought about how my activities are no longer limited by achy knees and the hours in the day but rather by doctor’s appointments and treatments. My life is dramatically different now. As I sat in the stands with these people last year, who would have imagined that I would be the one diagnosed with cancer? It all hit me squarely between the eyes just like those four interceptions that hit WKU squarely in the numbers!
But as we often say in the Rice Household, it is what it is. This diagnosis of rectal cancer must be accepted and I will do what I must do to get to the other side of this illness and on the road to wellness. It is a journey that will take almost a year to complete. As I put on my favorite Wildcat Blue Saturday, I was again reminded that it is also the ribbon color for colorectal cancer. If you see me wearing more blue than usual, you’ll know why. It’s because hope springs eternal but this time it isn’t for anything like a winning football program. For me personally, hope springs eternal for a complete cure for my rectal cancer and for all other patients that have been diagnosed with cancer.