Erin Wood: May Her Light Shine On

Erin Wood and her son Bradley
Erin Wood and her son Bradley at CRUSH and all dressed up for prom. Now he's 22.
Beloved co-worker, mother, wife, daughter, friend, and patient-champion, Erin Duffy Wood, 57, has passed away after a 15-year battle with colon cancer.
She is survived by her parents, James and Carolyn, her husband Kelvin Thales Wood, Jr. (KT), son Bradley, brother Tim Duffy and his wife Colleen, and many other heartbroken family members and friends.
The Ohio-born longtime resident of Roxboro loved socializing with friends and relatives, her family said, and enjoyed playing video games and helping people in the colon cancer support group. She also made the best fried chicken around.
Erin's son Bradley thought she was "the best mom." He and his dad said she was "the smartest woman they knew." Erin's biggest goal, when she was diagnosed with cancer, had been to live to see Bradley's graduation from high school. She did. And then some. He turned 22 this July. She was one proud mama.
Erin earned an Associate of Arts and Sciences (AAS) degree in Computer Operations in 1985 from San Antonio College in Texas. She brought her IT talents to Duke in 1998 — working for MCIS (now DHTS) in the Department of Medicine and then at Duke Cancer Institute in Information Systems. She completed her career at DCI as a Senior IT Analyst.
"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.
Many of her DCI coworkers recall how every year on the first Friday in March, Erin would encourage everyone she knew to wear blue for colorectal cancer awareness. And if you arrived to the group photo (for Facebook) without blue on she'd go grab something from her HUGE stash of blue — from t-shirts, to boas, scarves, beads, hats and funky headbands — and make you put it on.
Erin and MargotErin was a fixture at the DCI-led Crush Colorectal Cancer Walk & 5K Run, held each year in March, with her fundraising team “Tush Tush.” Come rain or shine or frostbite. Friends fondly recall she “voluntold” you as a member if you weren’t already on the team.

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."

DCI Supportive Care & Survivorship Center administrative assistant Kim Malugen saw Erin through the happy days, the days that were a struggle, and the last days.
When Erin went home with hospice Kim came for a visit, bringing yellow mums, tea, homemade pound cake and Erin's favorite meal — fried chicken gizzards, beets, green beans and hush puppies from Old South Restaurant. They ate. They laughed. Made silly faces. They remembered all the good times. They watched TV, and read through Erin's huge stack of birthday cards. Then, when the room was quiet, Erin said, "I'm not ready to go...I'm just not ready."
She passed away on October 3, 2021.
“I have known Erin for almost 14 years and she was one of my best friends. She was my chosen family. She celebrated the biggest things and the smallest of things for everyone, even when she didn’t have news to celebrate,” said Kim. “We are all such better people to have known her and to have received such unconditional love from her. It was her smile that brought people in, but it was her love for life that made us all stay. She was our superhero and there will most definitely never be another Erin!”
At Erin's memorial service last weekend, the rain — visible through a tall stained glass window — suddenly and briefly poured down outside the church as Kim's daughter Hannah sang "Amazing Grace" then "The Wind Beneath My Wings." Kim recited the poem “When Tomorrow Starts Without Me.” Good friend Mike Leonard, a DCI database analyst, read a poem of his own creation — "A Song for Erin" — that read in part, "No one could tell the 'sick' Erin from the 'well' Erin. Every day she fought, and made everyone a part of that fight... She wasn’t sick. She was more 'well' than the best of us and we stopped thinking she could ever leave. Until she did."


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.”