In January 2011, Reynolds Price, distinguished James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke University and longtime member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, passed away at age 77. He had authored dozens of books, inspired thousands of students as well as colleagues and others on and beyond the Duke campus, and was revered as a highly skilled novelist, memorable Southern storyteller, and unmatched creative writer. A North Carolina native, Price graduated summa cum laude from Duke in 1955 and returned in 1958 after studying in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, with peers as notable as W. H. Auden, as a Duke University faculty member for the next 53 years.
Duke President Richard H. Brodhead commented upon his passing, “Reynolds was a part of the soul of Duke; he loved this university and always wanted to make it better. We can scarcely imagine Duke without Reynolds Price.”1
Price became confined to a wheelchair in 1984 when a cancerous tumor in his spinal cord left him paralyzed from the waist down. “The fact that my legs were subsequently paralyzed by 25 X-ray treatments … was a mere complexity in the ongoing narrative which God intended me to make of my life,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with a local newspaper reporter years later. Price’s account of cancer survival is captured poignantly in his 2003 book, “A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing.” Having read this book shortly after it was published, I retrieved it from my bookshelf when I heard the announcement of his death on NPR morning news because I wanted to reread Price’s account of his “mid-life collision with cancer and paralysis”. It is one man’s record – through a ten-year recollection – of how a person confronts a life-altering trial of unimaginable proportions and comes out of the experience transformed, with a new but very different life. He offers the book to those facing their own trials, those caring for someone who is undergoing such turmoil and stress, and those of us awaiting our own, yet unknown “devastation”. I highly recommend it to anyone.
Some people who lose control over their bladder or bowels may have found themselves in such circumstances because of a single event, such as in the immediate aftermath from surgical removal of a cancerous prostate. One day, you feel fairly normal as you’re getting along with life, and the next day you’re soiling your clothes because of the surgical trauma inflicted upon tissue, vessels, and nerves. For many others, it is not so sudden. The symptoms come on gradually, almost invisibly, until one day you realize that the symptoms of urgency or leakage are taking over your life instead of you controlling it. Knowing how others have maneuvered the road to wellness and mastery over symptoms, even if it’s just to be able to manage the symptoms rather than eliminate them, requires patience and perseverance. But it also takes the coaching and encouragement of others. In this book, Price writes of his friendships tenderly because they comfort him, they energize him, and they uplift him.
Online forums do that too. Find one that works for you. Let NAFC connect you. On the NAFC web site, there is a group just for men and another one for women. There’s even one just for those concerned with bowel control issues. It’s a private meeting place where you can get and give advice to comfort, energize, and uplift others. Working together, you can discover a whole new life, just as Reynolds Price did.
Nancy Muller, PhD
1 http://news.duke.edu/reynoldsprice/, accessed online 27 January 2010