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On Strong Links, Chain Reactions and Mashed Potatoes
Note to the reader: This is the second in a series of occasional articles chronicling real life encounters with intriguing people, places, and events across the New South. There are many everyday heroes pulsing just below the radar.
The most terrifying and heartless aspect of cancer is that you can make all the right moves – eat the right foods, exercise ‘right’, get regular checkups and even have the good sense to come from good stock. You may even possess a surplus of good karma-goodwill built up from a lifetime of selfless pursuit. Cancer cares about none of this.
Cancer comes swiftly, urgently, and silently in the wee dark hours – threatening… taunting… and stealing dreams.
On July 2nd, Barbara Dyce receives a frightening phone call from her doctor’s office. It’s the kind of call that can leave one crying and gasping for air. A tiny node, deep inside her right breast, a spot that has been looked at before – “ doesn’t look quite right.” Something has attached itself – i.e. “linked itself” to the spot. A deadly chain reaction is going on deep within Dyce’s body. Something is going terribly wrong.
Barbara Dyce is not ‘from here’…at least not originally. A half-decade ago, Dyce, 43, moves cross-continent from Southern California. And while it may resemble a cliché from Hollywood, her workplace for twenty years, hers really does read like a Horatio Alger story.
At 19 and barely out of high school, Dyce begins working at a Los Angeles television post-production studio. At the time it is, as they say, it’s a ‘J-O-B’, not nearly the career that it would become. She starts, not behind the camera but rather toiling behind the company’s cafeteria steam table. Refusing to accept the notion that her destiny is ‘slinging mashed potatoes’, she’d wangles her way into the editing room. With no prior training in film whatsoever, she talks a few film editors into showing her how they do their jobs. Over a period of months, she learns fast and gets her foot – along with the rest of her – in the door. Once there, she stays for two decades. No more slinging mashed potatoes, only film on the cutting room floor.
If you’ve looked closely (and can read fast enough as words hurtle by), you’ve likely seen her name on the closing credits of any number of movies and television shows. For a nineteen year old woman armed only with mashed potatoes when she first approached the editors in that long ago editing room, she obviously was persuasive. Very! One wonders what she would have accomplished had she been armed with say, Porterhouse steaks. She might even be running all of Hollywood by now.
A generation later, Dyce picks up stakes, leaves Hollywood and comes south. She comes because part of her family is in Atlanta and because she believes fiercely in the idea that “…it does in fact take a village…”
In 2004, I drove all the way across the country she grins.
“Why leave Hollywood in the first place? Why leave L.A? You were the All-American success story.”
She moves to Atlanta “…on a mission”, she relates. At the time, her self-directed assignment is to act as a magnet and to pull together the various facets of her immediate family, who are all ‘in separate orbits’ around Los Angeles, Chicago, Minnesota and Atlanta. The idea is to be the one strong link to everybody -with a geographic center in Atlanta.
“Will, my Dad is Sigidi Abdullah. That [quizzical] look on your face says that you don’t recognize the name. You’ve most likely heard his work, though”, the woman with the smiling brown eyes, says proudly. “Dad is a studio musician and songwriter. He has written for any number of recording artists that you have heard of. Sigidi has five children: me, my twin sister (Carolyn), a brother (Mikale, 28) and a younger sister (Asmarah, 26), and Bre Anna, 17. Carolyn remains in L.A., Mikale and Asmarah are in Chicago and Bre Anna lived in Atlanta.
“Although, we all have the same father, only my twin and I have the same mother. The youngest of the five is Bre Anna, twenty six years my junior. I moved here to see to it that my youngest sister had a sense of who I was …and who we all were. Most importantly though is that I also wanted to be able to give Bre Anna an appreciation of how great her Dad is. Sometimes, the children of performing artists take their parents’ talent and greatness for granted. Sigidi would never, could never, point out to her things about himself that I could. The other thing is that as cliché as it sounds, it really does take a village to raise a child (Bre Anna) …maybe even to raise ourselves.”
I wondered, “Not everybody would have given up a successful career in television and film. Has it worked out?”
“I think so”, she says confidently. “My mother has since moved here from Minnesota… and we all get along very well. We’re not extended family, we’re one big happy family,” she beams.
The woman grins easily and often. Her eyes almost always twinkle. You get the impression that Bobbie Dyce knows something that the rest of us don’t know – or at least that you don’t. A very attractive, brown skinned woman, she seems to be in an unfailing good mood – even in the face of life threatening disease.
This must be what the inside of NASA or CIA looks like: aisles and aisles of cubicles, control rooms, tape libraries, and computer screens. All of this is secured by uniformed security guards, who are professional, polite, but very serious and efficient about their assignment.
“What are these things?” I ask as Barbra Dyce shows me around. ‘The things’ in my hands look like the old eight track tapes from ‘back in the day.’
“Cartoons. The Cartoon Network is right next door, but we broadcast everything from here.”
Cartoons? Now, I’m really intrigued. She takes me on a tour through the labyrinth of control rooms in the rest of Turner Broadcasting’s nerve center.
Except for its small size, you could easily get lost in Barbara Dyce’s control room. While as neat as an army barracks, it is a small area of necessarily dim, artificial light and contains a myriad of monitors, dials, buttons, charts, schedules and lists. All of this is to help Dyce accomplish her current job as Broadcast Operations Coordinator at Turner Broadcast Systems.
I watch her fingers move deftly over a console keyboard. Over and over. Maybe this is also how Sigidi plays the Moog synthesizer. It’s apparent that artistry, even the technical sort, runs in this family.
She is responsible for making sure that TV programs, live broadcast segments and commercials merge smoothly and seamlessly together, while we watch at home. If it sounds simple, it’s not, but she and her cohorts at Turner achieve their objective well over ninety percent of the time. She (and they) don’t ‘screw up’ much. Not that the rest of us would notice anyway.
“First, I take a deep breath”, says Dyce when asked she did when she’d received the dreaded call from the doctor. “I cried a little…just a little but I do it where nobody else can see. I don’t want to upset my mother or my family or my friends.”
“What else?”, I ask.
“I also try to think about it logically. The spot isn’t that big I tell myself…and it’s probably at Stage 1. I also remember a couple of friends who have gone through it successfully. They had gotten through it ok. I figured that under the circumstances, my situation would be a walk in the park compared to theirs. “Besides, everything is temporary and I feel like God always hugs me.”
“Is that what you know that the rest of us don’t?”
“And then I figure that if I don’t get through it, that if I don’t make …well, I just won’t be here [alive]. I just won’t be here (she repeats). I would’ve done my job. You know… cared for my family and friends… been the strong link in the chain, at least for awhile. And I am OK with that.”
Approximately six weeks after she receives the phone call, Dyce has successful surgery to remove the cancer.
The deadly chain reaction going on inside her body is thwarted – caught in time. The woman, who serves as the strong link in her family, wins her toughest battle.
Bobbie Dyce’s most serious battle to date is over. She still has several rounds of chemo to endure, but she’s up for the battle. She’s not nineteen anymore. She’s even stronger and certainly wiser. And this time, she’s got her family– and they’ve got her.
Epilogue: Barbara Dyce is currently undergoing chemotherapy but is also back at work cueing commercials and programs at TBS. She worries more about the impact of all this on her family and friends than on herself. “There’s only a 13 per cent chance that my type of cancer will recur,” she says.
“The odds are definitely in my favor. I may not even lose my hair. But if I do though, I’ll just buy a couple of hats,” she winks.
By the time you read have finished reading this, Barbra Dyce will have had more chemo. She could even be losing her hair. Or perhaps not. Either way, you feel sure that the Southern transplant from California, the strong link who smiles easily and often, will be just fine. Not only is she older and wiser, she also knows something – about living – that the rest of us don’t.
This time, she’s also armed with a lot more than mashed potatoes.
©Copyright 2010 Will Cantrell
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