Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Running Toward The Battle


Steven Underwood  
 1949-2005
by Dennis Voyles

Brain Tumors have dominated my life for the past six years. My life long friend and brother-in-law, Steven Underwood, was diagnosed with glioblastoma in 2004 and died early 2005. Steve and I had grown up only blocks away from each other.  He was the first person I met at Southeast High School when I was transferred there in the fall of 1963. We competed in athletics, shared classes, walked the hallways and formed a friendship over the years.

That was easy for Steve, he was probably the most popular person in school. He had a big, friendly smile and a charming personality that made you feel important to him. Steve introduced me to his younger sister, Sheila, her first year on campus. Eight years later we shared my first vacation together with Sheila and his young family on a two week trip in the back country of Colorado.

Sheila and Steve had a uniquely strong brother and sister bond.  Our early adult years were spent in daily contact with one another.  We shared many triumphs and tragedies as each of us tried to gain a foothold on our life journeys.  Steve grew into a successful business man and I became a teacher. Life reached a point in 2004 where we felt that we had each achieved our own dreams.

Brain Tumors do not care how fit or successful you have become. They lurk, silently at first, in the dark recesses of your mind.  Steve's migraine headaches were at first thought to be the normal stress signals  brought on by the creation of a new business and the difficulties of keeping it moving forward. Unfortunately, they were just a small alarm alerting us all to a much more sinister problem.

His downhill slide was rapid and unstoppable.  The once athletic, confident and self-assured Steve quickly had to come to terms with his approaching death. It was a difficult time for his children, his wife,   and his entire extended family.  Final goodbyes, difficult talks and hard moments of pain dominated the last months as Steve visited with many friends and family.

His death left a deep hole in our hearts. We realized, too late, that time is measured for each of us and although we share moments of that time together it is never enough.  Days drifted into months, months to years and still we wondered, why?  Why did this happen? How could it have been prevented? and What could we do?

In the Summer of 2008, Steve's children, Cathi and Quannah, along with Sheila and I met  and decided to do something in his memory.  Sheila and I had just attended my fortieth high school reunion and renewed friendships from the past. We told the kids that Steve was greatly missed by his former classmates.  I suggested that we stage a run in his honor from his home in Tishomingo, Oklahoma to Southeast High School. We would call it Run To Remember and would invite his former classmates to join us at the end of the journey.

I ran the distance over three days with Sheila, our daughter Sara, Steve's daughter Cathi, and our niece Courtney.   The Run to Remember  was a wonderful experience for us and we were greeted at Southeast by many of our high school friends and family. The Underwood Foundation was created over that weekend and we have grown each year in both members and support.