Saturday, April 7, 2012



 "So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified."

"Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him.

And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him.

When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews.'

Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led him away to be crucified."

CANCER WALK -- Wilmington writer Verne Strickland's battle with bone cancer.


By Verne Strickland
March 14, 2012

My walk with cancer actually began when I found that I was losing the ability to walk. This was only about three months ago. Pain froze my hips, hobbled my legs, and forced me to shuffle along, barely lifting my feet. I was suddenly old and infirm.

I turned 75 this year, but have enjoyed very good health most of my life. I've tried to watch my diet, curb cholesterol, stay in shape with light weight training, and stay off the smokes, which I quit over thirty years ago.

But then this "thing" happened. I had to curtail all my activities. I was grounded. My energy plummeted. I had no appetite, and my weight dropped markedly. Before I knew it, I was down to within five pounds of what I scaled in at when I was in boot camp at Fort Jackson fifty years ago.

I dropped out of sight. Could not function. Early onset of Alzheimer's worsened, and I was often confused and inarticulate. I couldn't think. To my family the change was evident, and alarming. We were all concerned. I didn't announce to friends until later what was going on. I didn't know.

Foolishly, I cut down on and then stopped altogether the dozen or more prescription meds which glued me together, regulating my heart, breathing, digestive and circulatory systems, and my brain. As a result, I crashed, and dove into a depression so deep I didn't think I would get out. I questioned how long I could survive it. It was a desperate time.

I didn't know I would talk about this, but it's a part of the story I need to tell. I entered a recommended mental rehab facility, which helped me get emotionally stable again. I needed that. While there for a brief period, I lived with unfortunates more desperately ill than I.

It was a profound experience. We had nothing but the staff and each other. They all befriended and helped me. In turn, I helped them. They were all good people with bad problems. I'm sure many of them are still there. I will never forget them.

There is no shame in this for me. Quite the contrary. It was a priceless and touching opportunity to see the other side. Even to be on the other side for a time. It broadened my horizons, deepened my compassion. I can even liken the experience in a way to the crushing emotional burden and depression that many combat veterans suffer, although to liken my own sickness to theirs would be disrespectful.

Far too many lost their battle.

I learned of their searing saga mainly through my personal relationship with conservative congressional candidate Ilario Patano, who in two tours of combat had his own encounters with shock, loss, fear, and the soul sickness known as PTSD. 

My fleeting passage through that dark world fed the kinship I feel with our soldiers and Marines like Ilario, whose campaign I take pride in supporting. He has talked about the horrors of PTSD, which has beset so many veterans, and talks frankly about his own bout with these demons. I think perhaps I may understand that a bit better now.

So I've been told I have bone cancer. Multiple Myeloma.

“But,” my doctor says, “it probably won’t kill you.”

He is smiling.

My wife Durrene and eldest son Martin are there with me. We have come for “the report”. They are smiling too. I’m sure I am as well. 

In years not too far behind us, the news likely would have not been so cheery.
“We owe much to modern medicine,” observes Wilmington oncologist Dr. William McNulty. “It is exciting, it is at our disposable, and we apply it gratefully.”

The past month has been a roller coaster ride of ups and down -- biopsies, CT scans, x-rays, MRIs, blood tests, counseling, radiation treatments, trips to hospitals, visits with an impressive array of medical specialists, and the opportunity to meet dozens of cancer patients like myself. 

Through it all, I am impressed and reassured by the one constant that clearly runs through all the waiting rooms, operating rooms, and recovery rooms and long hallways I pass through.

That unexpected constant element is calm. Serenity. Stoicism. Resilience. The irrepressible human spirit .

What is the source of this confidence, or, should I say, this optimism, or better yet – faith that what we patients share is not a sentence, or even a burden, but an opportunity to interact with others who labor gamely, even joyously, to see this experience through, profit from it, use it to grow in strength and in an appreciation of life.

Some of those I met are at the beginning of this journey. Others near the end of it. But there is a dignity here that I did not expect to encounter. It has meant much to me.

Whereas I am a writer, my tendency here has been to hold the subject – cancer – at arm’s length, and describe what I see. But I am daily brought back to the realization that I observe this from inside the bubble. I too have cancer. I have an uncertain future. And I am suffering.

Let me delay no longer to cut to the chase. I have been given a reprieve and I know it. The cancer which has gnawed silently at my bones has not had much of a head start.

With my mind somewhat fixed, I undertook the next step -- to find out what was physically wrong with me. My loving, caring family gathered around me. This was so important. We prayed for direction, courage and resolve. It all came, of course. Faith is wonderful when you have it, and a lifesaver when you need it.

We gave God the reins of our lives. He guided us to the man who took charge of our medical dilemma -- Dr. William McNulty, a board-certified Wilmington oncologist and internist of national reputation, a brilliant and cheerful physician who changed my life and gave me a new sense of hope. He is a founding partner of Hanover Medical Specialists.

I surrendered myself to a procession of tests and probes -- biopsies, CT scans, MRIs. The problems seemed to have originated in my pelvic structure, which seemed reasonable, because my ability to walk had been most seriously compromised.

Dr. McNulty early on suspected multiple myeloma, a type of cancer which starts in plasma cells. It's the most common type of plasma cell cancer -- intimidating, but treatable with what my oncologist described as "modern medicine" -- radiation, and chemotherapy -- utilizing an "old" drug enjoying a resurgence in popularity due to new creative techniques in IV usage.

It was after two weeks of radiation treatment that I entered the world of modern chemotherapy -- just half a click short of surgery in the arsenal we can employ against deadly cancer. This is where we'll go next in this series -- my personal saga I call "CANCER WALK."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012



Republican candidate for the New Hanover County Board of Education.
Professional background
Includes managing business operations at New Horizons Elementary School and at her husband Tommy Covil’s hauling contractor business.
Educational background
Associate degree in Applied Science – Accounting.
Family in New Hanover County schools
Four children attending Laney High, Trask Middle and Eaton Elementary schools.


By Verne Strickland Strickland, April 4, 2012

These are excerpts from a recent interview with Tammy Covil, who agreed to share some of her experience and philosophy with me for USA DOT COM

VS: What do you see as some of your most important experience in qualifying you for this leadership post?

Most of my experience has been working with teachers in the classroom -- at the school level. They have expressed to me that they are like middle management. They have a lot of authority to ensure that teachers are performing and testing well, and doing their job effectively, but are not really given the resources with which to do that. 

Oftentimes when they complain to administrators, there’s not much sympathy for them in those terms. The government of many large organizations like this has become so top-heavy, with people at the top siphoning off large salaries money that could be better utilized in the classroom. 

They are over-burdened by paperwork and regimentation, documentation, and have to have benchmark testing. So many things take away from classroom instruction time. It can be so heavily regulated to the point we lose good teachers to over-regulation.

I work for a private elementary school as office manager. I had the privilege of sitting in on the interview process when we were looking for a first grade teacher. It was very striking to me when we would interview teachers who come from the private sector versus teachers coming from the New Hanover Co Public School system. 

The teachers from the private sector would answer the questions based on what they would do. Every teacher who came from New Hanover County county public schools asked, "Do you mean what is the policy?."

These teachers are supposed to be instructing our teachers on how to be critical thinkers, gather information, make informed decision based on that. They’re not even allowed to do that in their own classroom. 

So how can they teach our children based on their own concept? It's very striking to me. We are losing very good teachers as a result of this. Just out of sheer frustration. But once they’re in the system, you can’t get rid of them.

I asked Sup. Markley, "What is your procedure when you evaluate that teacher and find the individual is not effective? How can you fire them?"

His response was, "Well we have professional development.We’ll just have to shift that teacher around from one place to the next."

But there is no plan for firing an ineffective teacher. 

Some say there’s no such thing as tenure. But that’s not true. I think after four years in the system, a teacher is officially tenured. I think that’s what’s wrong with our system. After four years, where’s the incentive for that teacher to continue their own education, look for new ways to develop their skills and professionalism, when they don’t have to?

That’s the difference between what’s happening in the private sector and the public institutions. 

VS: What other major concerns would you address were you to be elected?

I believe in the power of competition. The State Legislature had just lifted the cap on public charter schools, which I think is a good thing. I’d like to see more options for parents in providing that competition because when schools have to compete for enrollment, they must perform. 

In the year-round system – you have kids waiting to get into that school, and it’s no different – the curriculum is the same, no different in how day or class time is structured over the year. 

We can’t consider public education system as a surrogate parent. You can’t put your kid in school, wash your hands and say, "I’ll see you in 12 years."

What I’m really about is offering parents as many options as possible. I’m a staunch supporter of neighborhood schools, of year-round schools, of schools of choice, Some parents may not totally like the schools they are districted for, may not be in position to live in an area that is totally desirable, but giving those parents options is key.
It holds those schools accountable. With Virgo, an open enrollment school, parents pulled their school out because they didn’t like what was happening. 

Those are some of the main positions I will work for if elected. 


From Lumina News:
Overregulation a challenge for public schools, Covil says

Overregulation is a challenge public schools face, as teachers are tasked with unrealistic expectations regarding student testing and burdensome paperwork, New Hanover County Board of Education candidate Tammy Covil has said.

"Less regulation and more individual school autonomy will free teachers to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively," Covil said recently.

Covil supports expanding school choices for parents, such as neighborhood, year-round, magnet and charter schools, all of which she said leads to more competition and greater performance and accountability.
Partnering with parents and reaching students early on can help with achievement, she said. 

"By the time they get to middle and high school if you haven’t built a strong sense of how important it is to get a good education and those children are not performing well and enjoying school it’s going to be difficult to reach them at that stage," said Covil, who has served as a member of the School Improvement Team and the Parent Teacher Association at Eaton Elementary School.

How would you recommend schools keep programs and educators amid state budget cuts? 

The lion’s share of the school system’s budget includes federally or state mandated programs whose funding cannot be touched. Therefore, I believe a meaningful reduction in the size and scope of the Department of Public Education, both at the state and federal level, is necessary in order to push funding to local boards. This will allow school boards flexibility to direct funds to the areas where they will serve their respective communities most effectively.

LN: What, if any, education expenses should be cut? 

I believe the classroom is one of the last places budget cuts should be made. Funding for budget items that do not directly impact instruction should be one of the first considerations for spending reductions.

LN: What makes you the best-qualified candidate for the school board?
I have spent countless hours tutoring, reading with students, volunteering in the library, and assisting teachers in the classroom. Additionally, I have spent many years serving in leadership positions on various education-related boards. My experience, coupled with the fact that as a parent I am a true stakeholder of public education, qualifies me to serve as a member of the board of education. Having first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing teachers and students gives me a unique perspective that will be invaluable in my service to families of New Hanover County.