by Bo Petersen
Of The Post and Courier
Peach fuzz on the
shaved heads of Troy Thomas' firefighting
crew. Finally. That's when it hit home for
Today, he and Renee
Thomas, his wife, are home, celebrating
what she calls "a true Thanksgiving."
After many ups and down
during the last several months, Renee
Thomas and her husband are thankful that
her cancer is in remission.
She is in remission
after a brutal battle against cervical
cancer that put her through three
surgeries, 12 rounds of chemotherapy and
32 radiation treatments in less than a
year, while doctors used words like
"uncommon" and "aggressive."
It was pure hell.
In April, her hair fell
out. She texted Troy, a Mount Pleasant
fire lieutenant. He felt helpless, a
little lost. He turned to his crew and
asked if anyone had shears, so they could
shave his head bald too.
One by one, the crew
shaved their own heads. Then another shift
did. Then another. Within a few weeks, 125
firefighters and others — men and women —
had shaved bald in a Lowcountry show of
In July, Thomas came to
the fire station with the news: Renee was
cleared. The next shift, the crew was
sporting peach fuzz.
That's when it hit
home. Troy, who had been Renee's rock
throughout the ordeal, simply broke down.
One day in April, Renee
lay in a Hollings Cancer Center bed in
pain and too sick from treatment to even
lift her head. It was maybe their bleakest
moment. All she could say to Troy was,
Troy looked up and a
turtle dove settled on the window sill
outside. He squeezed her hand and showed
"God answered us," he
said. "We're going to get through this."
Today, Renee has the
peach fuzz, a close crop of hair that
gives her a pixie look. "I'm cuter," she
said with a pixie's smile.
The couple's life has
changed. They are more spiritual. They are
ready to give back. They plan to work with
cancer patients as mentors, to give them
the kind of boost they could have used the
day they heard the diagnosis.
"There are so many
possibilities out there as far as
opportunities to give back to those who
have done so much for me. That's where my
heart is right now," Renee said.
Among other gestures,
they are presenting to the Hollings Cancer
Center a large, framed photograph of the
bald firefighters taken with Renee.
It's to inspire other
patients, sure. But more, it's to give a
lift to the staff who treated Renee, who
"wrapped their hearts around us," Troy
"The first time Renee
told me the firefighters had shaved their
heads, it brought tears to my eyes," said
Whitney Graybill, Renee's doctor at MUSC.
second from left, and husband Troy
Thomas, third from left, present MUSC's
Dr. Whitney Graybill with a framed
photograph of bald Mount Pleasant
firefighters Nov. 26. The firefighters
shaved their heads to show support for
Renee and her fight against cervical
cancer. The firefighters also donated
knit hats. Helping present the gifts to
Hollings Cancer Center are firefighters
Ed Gramling, Jay Upham, Daniel Casey,
Gregory McDougal and Steve Szymanski.
"She loves life. She
lives with gusto. She's a fighter. The
solidarity of the firefighters, it's such
a blessing, it's such an inspiration, and
it is really for me what Thanksgiving is
all about. It just makes you grateful for
each day you have."
Renee, 35, has always wanted children, but
it didn't happen. Now she and Troy are
going to adopt.
"It takes something
like this to realize, oh my goodness, I
don't have tomorrow. I only have today,"
Troy is refocused, far
more patient than he used to be. He makes
a point of making time to spend with her.
They are celebrating a
traditional holiday with family. Renee's
big plans are to eat lots of turkey.
That's the best part, the part she yearned
for only a few months ago.
Her Thanksgiving will
note: This article ran in the
Nov. 23 issue of The Post and Courier and
is reprinted with permission.