Editor’s note: Scores of family and friends gathered on March 9, 2020, to honor the life of Cyndi Rose McHolland Boome following a years-long battle against cancer. But Cyndi’s battle against disease actually began 50 years earlier when a tumor was found in her right shoulder. Cyndi was the younger of two sisters to Rick Smith, cofounder and editor of WRAL TechWire. “In the 50 years I have been a journalist, I’ve never met anyone more courageous than my little sister. And I’ve interviewed thousands of people, from Medal of Honor winners to sports and business superstars. Her smile would light up a room. She never met a stranger. And in dealing with impending death she prayed for her family. Jim Valvano would have been inspired by her fight.” In honor of her memory and the continuing inspiration she gives to all who knew her, Smith is devoting today’s “The Skinny” column to Cyndi, praying that she will inspire you, too. The original post was published in 1976 – her grit and determination and faith already evident.
NEW CASTLE, Ind. – Cyndi Smith wiped the sweat from her brow then hit the tennis ball again and again, shifting the racket from one hand to the other.
The pain was evident, but the 21-year-old did not quit. She completed the entire set and although she lost, 6-0, a smile of satisfaction crossed her face.
“I hope you had fun,” she smiled. “I know I did.”
As she and her partner walked off the court, thoughts raced backward in the mind of the young man who had beaten her. He recalled that seven years ago this same girl had been a promising young athlete. There was a tear in the corner of his eye.
At the age of 14, Cyndi Smith was an incredible softball player. Her play in the hometown league made the ever-smiling blonde an all-star.
No matter what the sport, she liked it. Her love for sports was genuine and in high school she reflected that by competing in the G.A.A. while supporting boys’ athletics through the pep club.
Cyndi Smith was perhaps ahead of her time for in those days, 1970-73, there were no girls’ athletic offered at her high school. Had there been, she would have tried out for every team.
But during her sophomore year the problems began. And now, seven years later, she still struggles to overcome a tumor in her right shoulder, a tumor that for a time prevented her from taking part in sports she so dearly loves.
Doctors could find no reasons for the tumor, which rested between her shoulder blade and rib cage. It actually was discovered by accident.
Over a period of two years, 1970-72, the pain grew immensely. She carried her shoulder higher than normal to alleviate the pain. The arm was weak.
One last time she struggled through a softball season. Her play was noticeably affected. She did not make the All-Star team again, yet every practice she was at first base. And at every game she gave her best and swung the metal bat hard enough every swing made her cringe in pain.
Finally her physician opted for surgery. His conclusion: a rib was affecting a vital nerve.
But when they should was laid open the doctor found a white gristly substance. He removed a great deal yet had to close the shoulder before all the tumor could be removed. Analysis showed it was not malignant and a second operation was scheduled.
This also failed to solve the problem. Within a few months the tumor was again growing.
A girl just graduated from high school found herself bound for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. There she underwent cobalt treatments.
The doctors were puzzled by the tumor. They could give no reason for its existence. It was labeled simply a “rare” occurrence.
A girl of 18 was told her arm might have to be amputated if the cobalt treatments failed.
The pain she could accept. The thought of amputation she could not. That only increased her determination to overcome this rare disease.
And now three years later the spirit remains unbroken. The treatments have worked to a great degree. A physical therapy program, although quite painful, has restored much of the movement and strength the shoulder lost.
Despite the arm problems, at Western State in Gunnison, Colo., she majors in recreation.(Cyndi graduated in 1977.) The demands on the still painful arm are great. She had to relearn the skills of bowling and tennis. Even with a still weak arm she learned how to play a guitar and snow ski.
A week ago, she demonstrated her tennis skills, using both arms. The shoulder prevents her from serving in the conventional fashion, but the ball still crosses the net.
As her partner returned forehands, backhands and serves, he marveled at what he saw – a young woman of 21 determined to overcome her physical ailments … someone who did not lie down and let a tumor overcome her.
Through the struggle there was that ever present smile, a feeling of confidence, an uncanny will to win.
Eventually she will recover more strength and movement in her arm. The doctors cannot really explain why the recovery is occurring. But they agree that her own determination to win this battle is a vital reason.
Come this fall she will again be skiing down mountain slopes, bowling, and perhaps even shooting a basketball. Over the rest of the summer that tennis racket figures to hit a few more balls over some nets.
The war has not been won yet, but daily she is winning another battle.
Someone once asked, “Why her?”
Another replied philosophically: “Perhaps God wanted her to serve as an inspiration to others.”
She has indeed been that, especially to her brother.
This article was originally published on July 13, 1976, in The New Castle Courier-Times where Rick Smith was sports editor. Cyndi, who became an elementary school teacher, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, a year before Rick learned he had Stage 3 colon cancer. Cyndi’s cancer went into remission but returned in 2014, having metastasized to her liver. She fought for six years before in January 2020 deciding against taking any further treatments after having tested several drugs.
Cyndi is survived by her husband David Boome, son Pete McHolland and grandson Kalvin McHolland, sister Sylvia Griggs, brothers Bill and Rick. You can read Cyndi’s obituary here.