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In face of terminal illness, some teach the meaning of life
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Someone decided a few years ago that October was the month we focus on cancer, primarily breast cancer.

We have seen pink ribbons, pink sweatshirts and pink hats that are the reminder that there are many who are winning the battle against cancer and that women should schedule a mammogram.

Last week, I listened to Barbara Dooley, the wife of legendary University of Georgia Coach Vince Dooley, talk about her experience with breast cancer. She talked about how it shakes you down to the very depths of your soul. She also talked about some funny moments in her battle with the disease.

Barbara, a native of Mobile, Ala., has a beautiful Southern drawl that adds an extra syllable to a word. She and Vince do radio commercials for a bank. When Barbara Dooley says the word "bank," it becomes a two syllable word with a half twist.

She talked about the hundreds of cards she received from the Bulldog Nation, many from absolute strangers. They were kept in a basket by her bedside. When she felt her worst, she would reach for a card and read the heartfelt message from someone. She said it sustained her.

She laughed about losing her hair and the various shades of wigs she purchased.

Her faith and her unswerving determination brought her through the ordeal, and Barbara Dooley is a great example of a cancer survivor.

Another is Carol Jackson, the former state senator from Cleveland. In the midst of a campaign to win back her seat, Carol found out she had breast cancer. She could have folded her tent, but she carried on.

She didn't win the election, but she won the battle against breast cancer. I saw her at a party last month and she was celebrating two years of being cancer free.

Carol is a horse show friend, too. It didn't take her long to get back on the horse, either.

But while the emphasis is on surviving, we should not forget there are those who get a less-than-great prognosis for their disease.

I have seen so many people who knew that there were limited days remaining in this life, but made a conscious decision that each one would be treasured.

Those people don't necessarily teach us how to die, but instead, I think they teach us how to squeeze every remaining drop of pure goodness before they go.

A dying woman pulled a dream of going to Europe out of her wish list and, with her husband, saw some of the most spectacular places on earth. The pictures show a woman gaunt and frail, but her senses absorbed the sights, sounds and fragrance of the Italian countryside.

While she is gone, her husband has the everlasting memories of those days. They can help erase the thought of days spent on a sick bed.

A young husband, diagnosed with cancer in the final stage, found the love of a church congregation when he and his wife dedicated their new baby on a Sunday morning. There was hardly a dry eye in the place.

Two weeks later he was gone.

I value all the expressions of deep determination - from those who find complete victory over cancer and from those who unselfishly fight it with tenacity to the very end.

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays and Sundays.