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Courtney bares soul to cancer support group
FHS coach tells of ‘struggle just to get to locker room,’ growth during his year-long cancer battle

Losing the battle to fight back tears during a Sunday speech, Eddie Courtney recalled his eventual winning battle with Hodgkin's Disease after “barely having the strength to make it to the locker room” during one game.

A football coach and teacher at Farragut High School for 27 years — the last 10 as head coach — Courtney spoke to about 20 Hopes Embrace cancer support group members of Cokesbury United Methodist Church at the church’s Cokesbury Center May 7.

Announcing he’s “cancer free” with his strength returning and a full head of hair, Courtney said that about two weeks after “a pretty good season” was over last fall, something suddenly hit him.

“I got home one night and went upstairs and it just mentally hit me, what I’d been through,” said Courtney, who was first diagnosed in April 2005. “Up to that point I’d been able to pretty well handle it, staying busy, trusting the Lord. ... Again I went through that stage where you feel so bad, so angry, so upset.

“I started thinking back to people I had treatment with, three of them are not with us anymore,” Courtney added. “I realized I’m still here, I had a good outcome.”

After receiving his last radiation treatment late last fall, Courtney was unable to fight back tears as he recalled, “‘I can’t see those others I just got so close to.’ I said, ‘I’m a pretty strong guy, but I can’t face them today.’”

Not forgetting those fellow cancer survivors at Thompson Cancer Survival Center, “I’ve gone back four times now. I try to go about every two weeks to see those folks,” Courtney said.

As a result of his struggle, “I see things a lot more different now in a lot of different ways,” he said. “I’m more appreciative in ways, and take things more seriously in ways. And I also want to laugh.”

When first diagnosed, “that will humble anybody right quick,” Courtney said. “I went through kinda that pity part where you start thinking, ‘why me?’ and ‘what’s happened to me?’ and ‘what am I going to do,’ all that kinda stuff. After I got through that I realized it’s another way God’s going to use me in some way. It’s going to be a year or so, but I was going to find out what was going to happen to me.

“I never will forget when they came in and told me, ‘you’ve got a mass in your chest,’” Courtney added as he began fighting back tears. “I walked over the window and looked out and I saw my high school football coach [Bob Black of Fulton]. “And he was down mowing, what I would normally be doing.”

Emphasizing that you cannot beat cancer alone, “you need faith, that’s where those four groups come in to help me,” Courtney said of God, family, his FHS players and coaches and fellow cancer patients. “I looked down and said, ‘why me? What am I going to go through? I’m only fifty-one, I want to live.’”

“I went to work every day, I pushed myself through it,” Courtney said, adding that he was determined to have “a good outcome down the road.”

The FHS skipper said he’s been approached by many of his players asking, “‘coach, I don’t understand why you have to go through that?’

“I’m very blessed that right now, I’m cancer-free,” Courtney said. “I’m very lucky I found out early, in stage two.”

The 52-year-old coach said women “do a lot better job” than men at expressing their feelings — that men try and “tough it out” to the point of “finding out you can’t do it.

“I’ve had a few women call me and say, ‘I’ve got a husband dealing with cancer, would you talk to him, would you be available, I’ve done everything I can?’” the coach said. “I’ve tried to do that, be with ’em on the phone, tell ’em a little bit about what I’m going through.”

The FHS coach said he’s also counseled a handful of FHS students dealing with cancer.

Courtney then expanded on the four groups.

“First of all, my faith in Jesus Christ,” he said “I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home, accepting Christ as my Savior. I know I’ve fallen short several times,” adding, “I knew I needed to get back on track.”

Secondly, “I knew that I had strong faith and family members around me, to pray for me through all this,” he said, pointing to wife, Anita, with mentioning his mother and late father, Juanita and Paul Courtney.

The coach then referrenced the audience, adding, “You are my extended family now though I haven’t met you. ... We’ve gone through a lot of the same things. Our stories are different, sometime our symptoms are different, our diagnosis are different, but we are a very close family, so if I can ever can ever help you in any way, I’m in the phone book.”

The third group, “of course, is my football team and the coaches around me,” Courtney said. “In the game of football, every day you have to practice. ... It kinda makes you test yourself every day.

“That fourth group was the patients I went through this with in radiation,” Courtney added. “We didn’t get to be that close. ... I was just trying to get through my treatment, probably not saying much to anybody else there. Some days I’d feel better than others.

“I had four or five friends that we were going through radiation over at Thompson. We were starting to get there fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, forty-five minutes, an hour before treatment. ... That’s when I realized the importance of having a support group.

“I would see someone going through things a lot more difficult than I was. I tried to always be thankful where I was in my stage, stage two, a beginning stage.”

Remembering the first signs of a problem, “I knew four or five weeks before I was diagnosed, something was wrong, I thought I might have had a bad chest cold,” Courtney said.

“One day at work I was leaving the office, started up the steps to go through the gym to the main building, I couldn’t hardly breathe, I was just sweating, wringing wet. My chest was hurting, I really thought I was having a heart attack, heart blockage.”

Saying his wife, “being a nurse,” stayed on him to get regular checkups since turning age 40, “now I’m so thankful,” Courtney added. “Have a physical, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Despite his struggles, Courtney nevertheless led his 2005 Admirals to a 10-3 overall record that included two wins versus archrival Bearden while advancing into the Class 5A playoff quarterfinals.

“We went through thirteen games, probably four of those games I was exhausted,” Courtney said, adding that during halftime of one game in which FHS wasn’t playing will “I was really struggling just to get in the locker room.

“One guy said, ‘coach is going through life and death, we’re just out here playing a game we love to play.’”

With a new perspective, Farragut improved its play in the second half and won the game.

“I look at that as another learning thing for them,” the coach said.


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