A Message From Hazel Smith

CMT.com Columnist Finds Plenty of Support Following Cancer Surgery

Editor’s note: CMT Hot Dish columnist Hazel Smith recently underwent surgery, but her desire to return to writing is a sure sign that she’s rapidly recuperating. Here’s her update of what’s been going on in her life during the past few weeks. (Cards and letters may be sent to her C/O CMT, 330 Commerce St., Nashville, TN 37201.)

Remember all the wonderful songs of the South by Alabama? There was “Mountain Music,” “Dixieland Delight,” “High Cotton” and the ever-wonderful “Angels Among Us.” Since mid-April, angels have been all over, above and around me.

Cancer is scary. I’ve seen many friends and loved ones fight this horrible disease. Many of my friends have left this world because of cancer, while others have lived to tell the tale of their journey.

I was told in early April that I have cancer. I called my special friend Renee Bell, who teams with Sony BMG chairman Joe Galante to make up the strongest A&R team in Nashville. Immediately, Renee said, “You need to go to Vanderbilt.” So, I did.

Don’t laugh when I tell you that I believe Renee and Joe are my very own personal Mother Teresas. Joe is on the board of directors of the Frances Williams Preston Cancer Center at Nashville’s Vanderbilt Medical Center. (Frances Preston, the retired head of BMI, has spent many hours and lots of dollars helping those in need.) Joe saw to it that I was put in contact with the very best gynecologic oncologist in town, Dr. Marta Crispens, who mapped out my personal plan of attack against cancer.

Before I entered the hospital for surgery, the flowers started coming. Jason Michael Carroll, who taped my CMT show, Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith, showed up at my door bearing a hug along with white orchids and lilies, a gorgeous arrangement from Joe, Renee and Sony BMG execs Butch Waugh and Allen Brown. By the time we had wrapped shooting that day, I was in love with Jason Michael. I also received lovely pre-hospital flowers from Renee and the Grascals’ Jamie Johnson and his wife, Susanne.

I went under the knife on April 13 and made it through five hours of surgery. Waiting with my family in the waiting room were Buck White (patriarch of the Whites), my dear friends the Knippels from Hendersonville, Tenn., journalists and dear friends Martha Hume and Robert K. Oermann and the prayers of many.

Before I had even made it back from the recovery room, there were flowers from my WFMS radio family in Indianapolis, balloons from my daughter-in-law Marilyn’s family, the Barclays of Battle Creek, Mich., and from Ellen DeGeneres and her staff.

When I was brought to my room from recovery, my son Billy, grandsons Adam, Jeremy and Tyler and daughter-in-law Sharon were waiting for me. My son Terry was playing the Grand Ole Opry with the Grascals, so I didn’t see him until the next day.

By Saturday, I had flowers from various members of my CMT family. My good friend, “Opry” Dan Rogers, had brought a basket of Goo Goo candy clusters, a book of crossword puzzles and a copy of Jeanne Pruett’s book, Satin Sweets — Collection of Desserts.

They say the third day following surgery is the worst, and in my case, that proved to be true. I started to run a temperature. They had to do some middle-of-the-night X-rays and blood work to make sure that I didn’t have pneumonia. I didn’t, but I did become so violently ill, they had to put a tube through my nose to drain my stomach. During the middle of all this nose-tube drama, my brother, Henry, and his wife, Amy, appeared on their way home from a cross-country road trip and provided more comfort for my family than they will ever know.

As the week went on, the flowers kept coming and would make me smile. There were so many, I’m told you could smell them way down the hall. One arrangement was in a beautiful, Asian-inspired container with the promise of prayer from Alan and Denise Jackson. Kenny Chesney let me know I was on his mind and in his heart with a breathtakingly beautiful arrangement of yellow flowers. My two sons took a seat as close as they could to the beautiful arrangement sent by George and Nancy Jones. Meanwhile, in Caswell County, N.C., shoppers at the ABC Store would ask my brothers, “How’s your sister?” They would answer, “Doing better. She got flowers from George Jones.” CMT executive vice president and general manager Brian Philips and others at CMT outdid themselves with a huge basket of geraniums, hydrangeas and ivy. Just gorgeous.

Some of the sweetest visitors I had came in the form of Renee and the beautiful young group, Jypsi, carrying their fiddle, mandolin and guitar and proceeding to serenade me. There was not a dry eye in that room after they sang for me.

I received flowers and a generous gift certificate from Bill and Linda Lardie. The gift card will go for fresh produce and fruit. Thanks, Bill and Linda, for helping me to heal. You are truly wonderful friends.

Can you imagine getting flowers from Brooks & Dunn, with a card signed simply, “With Love, Kix & Ronnie”? Another arrangement came simultaneously with a card signed “Love, Clarence” from their manager and my dear friend, Clarence Spalding.

Would you believe Garth and Trisha sent an arrangement as tall as I am, as well as a peace lily from Garth, Trisha and all of Music Row?

Thanks are also in order for my dearest Fletcher Foster (always in my corner) for the chairs, the many visits and calls and for bringing in Nashville Cares. Fletcher also sent regular reports to CMT, Country Weekly, WFMS and KUSS-FM in San Diego, Calif.

Speaking of WFMS, I received two bound books full of e-mails of well-wishes from the wonderful listeners in Indianapolis. More than 1,000 e-mails — people telling me how they have prayed for me, how they have missed me while I’ve been away, encouraging me and sharing their own stories of fighting cancer — brought tears to my eyes. I was so humbled by that and a book of signatures the station collected. I am so blessed.

I received a lovely garden dish from Bob McLean, who always bends over backwards by doing what is right for country music, and flowers from the Terry family of Houston, the Hellers of Brooklyn, N.Y., the Music Row branch of SunTrust Bank and my friends Dave and Darrell. Sharon Howard brought tons of stuff, including embroidered pillowcases from her 80-something-year-old mom. Cyndy Garvin from my church brought me lotion, ChapStick and lottery tickets! My Southern Fried Flicks producer, Shane Caldwell, sent me beautiful flowers, and my executive producer, Richard Van Syckle wired beautiful roses of every shade and color. I also received gifts from the SOURCE steering committee and my publishing company, Dalmatian Press.

Right before I went to the hospital for my surgery, I was pleased to have Bucky Covington as a guest on Southern Fried Flicks. I remember telling Lyric Street’s “man with ears” — Doug Howard — about Bucky, the small-town country boy from Rockingham, N.C., when he was a contestant on American Idol. In the middle of my week from hell in the hospital while trying to get my body to function normally again, I vaguely remember hearing that Bucky’s album debuted at No. 1. I was tickled but honestly too sick to applaud. The kindness and generosity of Doug Howard and his wife Linda Edell Howard is too overwhelming for me to attempt to write. Trying to express my appreciation, not only do my eyes runneth over, so does my cup. Thanks, Doug and Linda.

When the day came to take me back to my home, another angel, CMT’s Martin Clayton arranged for a stretch limo to carry this tired girl home. Have you ever heard of such? Since I arrived back home on April 23, I have been fed by everyone from “Opry” Dan to Sharon White Skaggs (who stopped by one Saturday evening on her way to the Grand Ole Opry with a steaming pot of vegetable soup and cornbread still hot from the oven). Tori Hughes had the Palm restaurant prepare food for me, my first real meal after the surgery. Thank you, Tori. My Southern Fried Flicks stylist, Martha Armstrong, has also fed me, as have my wonderful neighbors, Nancy Stribling and Marie Nethery, and my wonderful church family at Holiday Heights Baptist Church.

I can’t begin to tell you how unbelievable my family has been throughout this ordeal. They have juggled busy work schedules to take turns staying with me around-the-clock, helped me to the bathroom and have done everything you can imagine that would have to be done. My 23-year-old grandson, Adam, has become a man during this process, as his younger brother, 20-year-old Jeremy. They have been in the trenches with me. My 15-year-old grandson, Tyler, was mad at his mother because she wouldn’t let him stay a night at the hospital with me, but he was willing. My beautiful granddaughters, Tara, 13 and Mattie, 2, have brightened my days with their smiles and giggles — as has my precious 8-year-old grandson, Trevor. My sons, Billy and Terry, married good girls in Marilyn and Sharon. They’ve been every bit as daughters to me — never mind the in-law part — because they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Even in the midst of sickness, pain and the unknown, God has been so good to provide for my every need. I’ve climbed a mountain and have yet to reach the top, but He is with me and — as He promised — will be with me, no matter what. I thank everyone who has a thought a thought or prayed a prayer on my behalf. I will covet your continued prayers in the days and weeks to come.

I will check in with you as I am able. You are never far from my thoughts.

With love,