I met Luanne Norvell last year, just before the start of basketball season. Her daughter, Susan Brooks had sent an email, proudly gushing about her mother fighting cancer without missing a beat of VCU fandom. She had surgery in the morning and tailgated at the CAA Tournament in the afternoon. She baked brownies for the folks at Massey Cancer Center. She wore black and gold wigs. Brooks called her mother an inspiration.
Norvell worked in the VCU School of Dentistry and was as big a VCU fan as I’ve met. The impression I got after meeting her was that she loved three things: God, her family and VCU Basketball. She spent the first 15 minutes of our meeting asking about my son. She also told me about her time as a chaperone for the Varina High School band, and how she once caught a mischievous drum major named Ryan Kopacsi sneaking out of his hotel room. I eventually had to steer the conversation back to her for fear that I would run out of time before I had to leave.
Luanne was a delight. Unfailingly positive, greatful and optimistic, she talked about her breast cancer in the past tense. Unfortunately, a couple of days after the start of basketball season, she emailed me to thank me for the feature I’d written on her for the men’s basketball program and to let me know they’d found spots on her lungs.
We maintained an occasional email correspondence throughout the year as she battled the cancer, pneumonia, a bacterial infection. Even as she wrote about the awful stuff, she remained upbeat. In one of our last exchanges, she asked me if there was a way to secure a Briante Weber autograph for a little boy at her sister’s school who “thinks he’s the best basketball player alive.”
Luanne Norvell passed away on April 29 after fighting the good fight for the better part of the last two years.
In Luanne’s office, there was a decorative piece, a plaque, a framed photo, I don’t exactly remember, but it contained a quote often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson:
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.
She talked about how much that quote meant to her, how it inspired her. She kept chasing that ideal, to make other people’s lives happier, better. In turn, she inspired others. She inspired me. Someday, her unyielding spirit will help someone else beat cancer. Of this, I am convinced. Maybe she’ll save my life too. While Luanne has passed on, I hope she knows how successful she really was.
Below is my original feature on Luanne Norvell. I never ran it online after she learned the cancer spread. But I read it this morning for the first time since November. I thought it would be upsetting, but instead, it made me smile. I hope it captures even a sliver of her spirit, her joy, her hope for the future and her love of others (and VCU hoops, of course). I hope she inspires you too.
CANCER HASN’T SLOWED THIS RAMS FAN
By Chris Kowalczyk
It was a Thursday night, and Luanne Novell’s hair was falling out. The chemotherapy to treat the cancer in her right breast was killing her hair cells. Finally, she’d had enough. Norvell stopped cooking dinner and told her husband, Danny, she’d be right back.
Norvell drove to a local salon and asked to have her head shaved. The beautician flipped on the clippers and put them to Norvell’s scalp, but the 57-year old Varina resident stopped her.
“Do you think you could shave ‘VCU’ in the back of it?” Norvell asked.