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by Caroline Downs

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You know what I mean?

Posted 7/03/13 (Wed)

I know Tami McNeiley is on a roll with a story when she interrupts herself to ask, “You know what I mean?”

Most of you know her as a teacher, a neighbor, a coach and a friend. A few of you are lucky enough to be related. One of you is blessed to call her wife, and two of you are blessed to call her mother.

For me, Tami has been a connection to the elementary school since I started writing for The Kenmare News 12 years ago. Whenever she would start bubbling over with an idea, she would call--and I would have a story.

The range of topics is always broad with Tami because she loves life and she loves learning, and she loves sharing all that with her students and everybody else. Thus, I have written about owl studies, geocaching and new technology purchased for classroom use, all because of phone calls from Tami.

Three years ago, a simple classroom project about ladybugs blossomed into a state law, and that basic article became the first in a five-part series that earned a writing award.

Last winter, she invited me into her living room as she and Ron described their family’s struggle with Ron’s diagnosis of Churg-Strauss Syndrome, a disease practically unheard-of anywhere.

And every time, every single interview, there have always been at least half a dozen “You know what I mean?” comments. When Tami starts saying that, I know she’s talking about something terribly important to her, whether it’s a way to use an iPad in math or a fun fact about ladybug eggs or an experimental drug to alleviate CSS symptoms for her husband.

So I’d better be taking especially good notes right then.

Sometimes, life piles up past the overwhelming point until you think you cannot bear it--and then one more thing comes along.

The McNeiley family in Kenmare is living with that, with Tami’s recent diagnosis of cancer more than 20 years after defeating it the first time.

This kind of news doesn’t seem real, much less fair. The reasons for this not to happen to Tami, to the McNeiley family, go on and on. I know more than one educated and religious individual in town who seriously plans to argue with God about this.

Those discussions have to wait for later. Right now, the McNeileys are asking for support and prayers, and the response has been inspiring. People are literally giving the gift of themselves.

That includes everything from watering flowers and mowing the lawn to preparing family meals and making arrangements for a special weekend at a Chicago Cubs game.

That includes a flurry of Facebook posts and prayers, sharing memories and Bible verses and photos to make Tami smile.

That includes some crazy businessmen grilling for last weekend’s Rib Rally and selling platefuls of sizzling ribs to collect donations for the family.

That includes Ryan Johnson who created a special decal to honor his former 5th grade teacher. Information about ordering the decals is included in this week’s issue of the paper, with all proceeds going toward the McNeileys’ expenses.

Those are ALL strong offers, with more to come, I’m sure--full of love for Tami, Ron, Jaden and Abigail, which might be the only thing that truly matters.

On June 14th, Tami wrote on her Facebook page,

“Today, I dream of hope and a belief that life is more than what I feel. Maybe it is something greater than one can explain or imagine. Maybe it’s yet to come. I have breast, liver and bone cancer. I will not give up! Isn’t it weird how life can be taken for granted, but when looked at closely it is so full of love?”

If I had been talking with her at that moment in time, I have no doubt she would have added, “You know what I mean?”

Yes, Tami, because of you we do.