"Erin was a valued member of the team, and her impact extended well beyond her desk job. She was a fearless advocate for our patients and a beacon of hope within our community. She built a family here," wrote Emily Norboge, MPSA, Clinical and Research Informatics Director at Duke Cancer Institute, in an announcement to faculty and staff last week.
Erin volunteered and fund-raised actively in the Duke community. She raised money for colorectal cancer research, led cancer support groups and provided one-on-one support for patients far and wide. In interviews with local media, she shared her personal cancer journey and raised awareness about the importance of colorectal cancer screening.
When interviewed in 2016 about why she supported the event, Erin said, “Getting involved is empowering. I’m not only helping myself, I’m also helping the tens of thousands of others who are and will battle this disease.” Constantly looking out for others, colleagues said, was the essence of Erin.
Erin was known as "a bright light" in the colon cancer world — lobbying for increased research funding for cancer at the federal level, attending local and national cancer survivorship and colorectal cancer conferences, reaching out to others in-treatment through social media forums, and making friends from all over the world along the way.
In recognition of her positivity and her dedication to her work, her coworkers, and her many patient advocacy and awareness raising efforts — all the while continuing to undergo cancer treatment — Erin received the 2020-21 Duke Presidential Award, the highest honor given by Duke University to faculty and staff members. She participated in the virtual ceremony just six months ago.
Wrote DCI Information Systems IT manager and friend Geoff Chenger in his nomination letter, “Erin constantly shows an incredibly positive attitude and spirit, a dedication to Duke’s patients and staff, and has an intricate understanding of what the staff and patients need from the unique perspective she readily provides. Not only have I never heard her complain about any of this, she stays so positive that it is an inspiration to all of us. Her spirit reminds all of us why we are really coming to work today.”
Physician assistant Margot O'Neill, PA-C, was part of Erin's care team at DCI and one of her biggest cheerleaders, both in the clinic and out at the CRUSH events. "She lifted up so many people over the years," Margot said. "Our job is a hard one and caring for someone you also consider a friend is a unique experience."
Note: There are 20 photos in the below slideshow.
"I met Erin in 2005, when I was the caregiver of my dearest friend and partner in crime Minora Sharpe, who was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at 39 years old. We attended the Duke Cancer Institute Cancer Support group and was honored to meet an incredible group of long term friends including this positive, energetic, go-getter named Erin. Erin embraced us, (made us) feel like family, kept us in the loop of the latest research, and made us laugh during the most difficult times. She did this as she continued her own battle with cancer. We loved hearing great stories about (her son) Bradley, and looked forward to moments when we all traveled together to a variety of cancer survivorship conferences across the east coast. Erin and Minora spent hours talking about the most recent research discoveries and discussed their experiences as they both underwent similar procedures and treatment. Through all of this Erin was a light, a joy to be around, and a beautiful woman who opened her heart to all of us in the support group. She made it her priority to visit Minora in hospice and even then our faces lit up as Erin came into the room to share her heart and love as she said good bye to her. Two years later after my friend's passing, I joined Duke working for the Cancer Institute and when I needed expertise from the IT team, who else shows up but Erin! We were so thrilled to see each other because we had this history. Erin continued to be a light that inspired so many of us, and her light will always shine in my heart and life."
— Nadine J. Barrett, PhD, Associate Director, Equity, Community and Stakeholder Strategy, Duke Cancer Institute
"I'll never forget the kindness with which Erin assisted me during my heme/onc fellowship. At that time we had moved into a new "fellows workroom" area in an old part of Duke South, and couldn't get the computers and printers to cooperate with each other. Erin got it all straightened out for us, and I'm sure most others in IT would have been able to do the same, but what was remarkable about it to me is HOW she approached her work. We didn't know each other, and she could have just put her head down and done the work without saying much, but instead she brought her warm smile and personality into this challenging IT encounter and that's why I still remember it today. I barely knew her then, and yet the first and immediate impression was that this is someone special, who cares about her work and more importantly, who cares about people. I wish we had more people around like Erin! She will be so greatly missed."
— Tom LeBlanc, MD, Duke Cancer Institute
"Years ago before I began working at the DCI, I was a Duke Home Infusion nurse and met Erin. I felt as if I had known her for a long time. She shared her journey, plans for her family and her career. She was such an inspiration to me! When I left Home Infusion and began to work at the DCI, I ran into Erin and I was so happy to see her. We had many impromptu conversations in the lobby at Hock Plaza. I will miss Erin. Just so hard to believe she is gone."
— Valarie Worthy, RN
"I first met Erin when she came to DCI about 18 years ago. We had a lot of Erin (Wood) and Aaron (Crallie) moments of confusion! She was such a help to me in my periods of computer illiteracy. It can’t be stated enough what a competent technician she was in software installation, device troubleshooting and general diagnostics. This is on top of what a kick she was to be around."
— Mike Leonard, Database Analyst II, DCI Information Systems
A Song for Erin
by Mike Leonard
The wipers thump back and forth, slapping droplets
off the windshield, in an easy rhythm that matches my heartbeat.
Rays escape the clouds and prism a splash of color.
I’ve gone out for something, to the store,
but now that something skips my mind,
lulled as I am by the watery hiss of my car making way…
- I met Erin in a workshop. She was reading my laptop like some ancient tablet,
that only she could cipher. She was both focused and cocky, professional and juvenile and mischievous. Possessed of an endless patience, (with an attitude…)
She applied attention and found solutions and stood up to lead,
or volunteer. She seemed to be a step ahead or following
sign posts that were invisible to the rest of us.
Most IT geeks like me don’t want to talk much or face up,
to people, preferring the dank cubicle and the whirring machine. Erin would breeze in,
her chats reassuring and funny. She took stock of people. I took notes,
trying to mimic her “can-do” optimism.
I learned, much later, that she was sick.
No one could tell the “sick” Erin from the “well” Erin.
Every day she fought, and made everyone a part of that fight.
She centered herself in a conversation
about cancer, and never stopped speaking up, or calling cancer out,
looking it directly in the eye, spilling the showdown out onto the street, saying:
“this town ain’t big enough for the both of us!”
Cancer picked poorly
in singling out Erin, and is licking its wounds today. It did not imagine the fight
would be so brutal, that Erin would win back more than what cancer stole.
The constant gnawing was met with defiance,
as if to say “is that all that you’ve got?”
Attempts to rob her spirit hardened resolve.
Hopelessness and despair found no purchase and
cancer retreated, beaten soundly, to strategize and wait her out.
Erin rallied patients to defy prognosis and pessimism, raising funds and mocking
her disease with emoji’s and 5K photos of runners, survivors and warriors.
She inoculated hundreds with the hope that her victory could be theirs.
She wasn’t sick. She was more “well” that the best of us and
we stopped thinking she could ever leave.
Until she did.
Is there a moment, I wonder, in the waning light when we see
ourselves for all that we did or didn’t do and apply an equation of regret?
How many of us feel the achievement of having surpassed all
expectations…to have risen at the ringing of every bell?
My heart slows in the rainy afternoon, with the winding of the road
and the whoosh of my tires. I have been gifted something,
something resolute and steadfast and I can feel it,
Waiting for me, just around the bend.
“Peace to you as you head into this season of learning how to be, without her here.”
In Memory of Erin Wood
*For those who would like to share their memories of Erin,you can do so via a Qualtrics survey (created by Emily Norboge) that will stay open through October 29. The remembrances will be shared with Erin’s family, and if you wish, on this blog post.
*A page paying tribute to Erin's spirit, enthusiasm, and dedication to CRUSHing colorectal cancer with team "Tush Tush" has been set up for those who would like to make a donation to benefit Duke Colorectal Cancer Research In Memory of Erin.
*Memorial contributions can also be made online or by sending a check to: Holt Brothers Foundation, 421 Fayetteville Street, Suite 1300, Raleigh NC 27601, Attn: Liz McLean, Executive Director.
Erin Wood in the News
CRUSH Raises Record $100,000 (2017)
Patient, Doctor Duo Ready To CRUSH Cancer (2016)
ABC 11 To Feature DCI's Altomare And Wood (2015)
WTVD 11: Local woman battling cancer urges others to get screened (2015)