In times of dark funk, focus on friendship and bright spots

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Lynne Cope Hummell

My good pal Vicki Needham was a colleague first, when we both worked at the Island Packet in the 1990s. She was a sports reporter, and boy, did she know her stuff! She knew stats, players, rivalries and records - for local teams, colleges and the pros.

She was a rabid Braves fan, and when she couldn't get back home to Atlanta to see them, she'd settle for a Savannah Sand Gnats doubleheader.

She would round up a few friends and trek together. I went once or twice, and we had a great time - enjoying a couple of beverages and having our pictures taken with Gnate the Gnat mascot.

I was disappointed when Vicki moved to Washington, D.C. I remember thinking I'd never see her again.

This was before Facebook was a constant companion. We stayed in touch though emails and phone calls.

Vicki lived in Reston, Va., and worked in D.C., and carved out a nice life for herself. She worked for Roll Call and The Hill, writing about important issues, like trade agreements, energy, defense, and the economy.

She was invited a number of times to appear on C-Span to talk about those topics. Damn, she was smart!

When Obama was elected president, my then 17-year-old son Clark and I decided on a road trip to attend the historical inauguration on my birthday, Jan. 20, 2009. I called Vicki to ask for tips about D.C. - and she pretty much insisted that we stay with her.

The only requirement was that we bring her a fish burrito from Amigo's in Belfair.

While we were in Washington, Vicki showed us around the city and drove us (like a bat out of you know where!) to where we needed to be next.

On Inauguration Day, we all got up at 4 a.m., went for breakfast and caught a train at 5:30 a.m. Vicki went to work while we went to the capitol.

She had a life outside work too. One of her favorite ways to spend a Saturday was working at the Reston Farmers Market. In trying to eat more healthfully, she had become a regular, choosing her favorite farmers. One of them finally asked her to work with them. She loved that "job."

Vicki was adept at Facebook posting without divulging too much of her personal life. One favorite and recurring post was the status each winter of her "table cake" when it snowed in Reston. The small round table on her patio collected fallen snow in a perfect cake-shape, growing taller as the snow increased.

It was a delight in the midst of harsh weather - even lasting through Snowmageddon.

Two years ago, she called me - and likely a number of other pals - soon after she was diagnosed. "Hey, whatcha doing? Me? Well, seems I have a little issue with cancer."

From the beginning, she was hell bent and determined to beat it. I just knew she would. Her dad had been hit with lung cancer and died a few years before. She would face hers with a mighty strength.

I have never seen someone so doggedly determined to know every single bit of information about her particular issues, the protocols, what had worked, what had not, and who was the best doc for each step of the way.

She became an authority on clinical trials, and talked her way into the ones she believed would yield a cure.

Several times during this cancer journey, she found time to come back to the Lowcountry. Her brother, Chris, lives here, and her friend Kate has a house on the island, where a group of us gathered whenever she was here.

Last April when she was here, she got into a fender bender and had to stay extra days until she could get a rental. The repairs took a while, so she had to come back in May to retrieve her car.

We met up at Capt. Woody's where she and Chris were playing Trivial Pursuit. "I gots to see you for a hot second" she had texted. I didn't stay long, as it had been a long day at work and I was tired.

How could I have known that would be the last time I saw her?

Thankfully, we stayed in touch via email, text and Facebook.

Thank goodness for Facebook. After her diagnosis, Vicki had created a secret page called "Vicki is mad as a swatted hornet" to keep friends updated with her progress, her blood counts, how she was feeling, and her newest mohawk before her hair fell out.

She first addressed us as fellow hornets and called us her "buzzy hive" - though we all used the cute bee emoticon. I never could bring myself to point out that bees and hornets are entirely different creatures.

We would post messages of encouragement. We all were fully convinced we would "zap the crap" of cancer together.

The page became a journey we all took with her, and I hope she found it as comforting as I did - knowing that she had lots of friends to support her, whether in person or in our not-so-little online group.

She never stopped fighting, even after a pulmonary embolism, pneumonia, and a rare blood disorder showed up - on top of the cancer.

Vicki fought back for more than two years. On March 25, her body just couldn't take anymore, and she slipped away. But don't ever say she lost the fight.

A light has gone out in this world, and friends and family across the country grieve. I like to think that her beloved Dad needed a dynamite short stop to complete his team up there.

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