Those few little paragraphs, tucked into a newspaper employment ad, are like reading a premature obituary.
Innocuously headlined “Executive Director,” it dryly spells out the job description, qualifications and pay range for the position of executive director of the Columbia County Board of Elections, setting a deadline for applications of Jan. 25.
It’s the job formerly held – not just held; owned – by Deborah Marshall. The job posting makes it abundantly clear that she doesn’t hold the job any more, that she won’t be returning to work despite all the sincere hopes and fervent prayers of an astonishing number of people.
That is devastating, especially when you realize that all those people cheering for Debbie after her surgery, and praying for her during her convalescence, have done so mostly with the tenuous belief that she, of all people, surely would be one of those rare stories of someone who overcame the malignant brain tumor with the ominous name glioblastoma multiforme.
Could a miracle still happen? No one who knows Debbie wants to believe otherwise. Will it? No one wants to admit, at least out loud, that it probably won’t. All the wishful thinking in the world won’t change it. After all, if miracles happened so easily, they wouldn’t be miraculous.
While everyone figuratively sits in the waiting room of Debbie’s convalescence, this news of her retirement bookends the initial gut-punch of her diagnosis last April.
Debbie thought her never-ending headaches were from a persistent sinus infection, and that’s how her symptoms were being treated. But one day, when the pain was too severe to continue attempting to treat it with antibiotics, she drove herself to Trinity Hospital’s emergency room.
That’s where a scan found the tumor, a cancerous growth that hijacked her own brain cells and turned them into a weapon that it used against her.
When I interviewed Georgia Health Science’s head of neurosurgery last year, his description of glioblastoma was downright frightening. He said most patients don’t live much more than a year after diagnosis. Then, in what felt like a too-late attempt to soften the blow, he quickly added that there are exceptions – after all, one of his patients has lasted five years, he offered.
But by then he’d already made it pretty clear that most don’t last that long. The basic problem is that, because the glioblastoma is made up of the brain’s own cells, it hides in the open. By the time the tumor has grown enough to be seen on a scan, it’s too late for surgery to do much more than slow it down.
And damnit, we shouldn’t be talking about any of this. Debbie should be on the job, serving Columbia County, guiding her son through college, being a remarkable wife and revered community member. She’s two years younger than I am, for God’s sake.
Instead we’re talking about her service in past-tense and pretending that hiring someone to meet the requirements of a help-wanted ad can in any way fill the void she’s already left.
The sense of helplessness is maddening.
While clinging to hope for that much-wanted miracle, the most we can count on is that Debbie and her family know how much she’s loved, and how much we wish there was no need to run that help-wanted ad.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-868-1222, ext. 106. Follow at www.twitter.com/barrypaschal.)