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Beloved UC professor and cancer survivor celebrated


WILLIAMSBURG, Ky. — Connie Howard considers her nature shy, but one seeing the woman with an almost constant smile and ready laugh might not believe her. A trait that the University of the Cumberlands' public health professor shares that cannot be disputed, however, is her nearly unbelievable, wholly inspirational positivity.

In April 2011, doctors discovered that Connie had HER 2 NU breast cancer, a highly aggressive type of cancer that is best treated through early detection. According to Connie’s doctor, if her cancer had been discovered even 3 months later the end result of her cancer could have been her death. After months of grueling chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she is now cancer free.

At a celebration of her life on Wednesday, Nov. 28—held by her colleagues at the University of the Cumberlands' Health, Exercise and Sport Science Department—it was her positive spirit that the cancer survivor’s colleagues, co-workers and friends marveled at.

"You're an inspiration," said one, while another remarked on Connie's "good mental attitude." Dr. Glenda Warren, professor of health who has worked at UC with Connie for more than 20 years acknowledged that Connie's attitude is not a result of her cancer diagnosis, rather her unrelenting faith in God.

"I always said, if she dies, she'll die with a smile on her face...she'll be happy 'til the end," said Warren of her friend. "Because [to Connie] it's not the end."

Connie admits she gained her strength and courage from God, especially through the weeks of difficult chemotherapy sessions.

"I would take one step at a time, and God would pull me along," she said.

Connie has been a health professor at UC since 1978, and much of her teaching focuses on death and dying. Most students who’ve sat in her classes list her as one of their favorites: “Her attitude and outlook in life made the subject [of death] okay…. She gave us the tools to succeed in class, but also in life…. It didn’t matter what she was teaching, she was passionate about it.”

Connie’s UC family members aren’t the only ones who have valued her heroic strength during an extremely difficult journey. On August 23, 2012 Connie was recognized by her community at the Tri-County Cancer Coalition’s annual Cancer Survivor’s Dinner in Corbin, Ky. when she received the Brenda McKeehan Celebration of Life Award, after being nominated by a former UC student Lee Richardson, Community Resource Coordinator at Baptist Regional Medical Center (BRMC) in Corbin. The award has been given to inspirational cancer survivors since 2008 to honor Ms. McKeehan, a nurse at BRMC who succumbed to cancer after 13 years of remission, and inspired others with her strength and invaluable contributions to the cancer coalition.

Connie was humbled and surprised to receive the award; she had no idea upon attendance of the dinner that she had been nominated.

“Why did I win this award? It seemed like I didn’t suffer that bad," she said, comparing herself to others who have suffered with cancer. Yet she admits that chemotherapy at times seemed impossible, noting that she set small goals to make it through each one.

Today Connie continues to teach at UC, and has resumed her work as a grief facilitator at BRMC. Her Facebook page often shows updates of recent hiking excursions, and she is currently planning a trip to hike the Appalachian Trail.

As a teacher, survivor and friend, Connie continues to inspire.

Story by Meghann Holmes, University Media and Publications Coordinator