A positive attitude, band battle, sad farewell
© St. Petersburg Times
Perhaps no job could be more apropos for Janice Armstrong than surgical technician on Tampa General's cardiovascular transplant team.
After all, hearts go out to her every time she tells her story.
A Tampa native, Armstrong returned to the city three years ago with her four sons to flee an abusive marriage in Houston. With little money and no marketable skills, she turned to the Goodwill Industries' Working Solutions transition program. Goodwill helped Armstrong enroll at Erwin Technical Center and begin work in the school's surgical technology program. Goodwill also provided child care assistance, gas and clothing vouchers.
Determined, Armstrong promised her boys she would graduate from the program in record time. Midway through the courses, she was forced to withdraw because of a car accident that left her with a debilitating herniated disc. After six months of rehabilitation, she returned to Erwin.
"I couldn't spend the rest of my life waiting tables," she said.
In January, she was hired at Tampa General. But shortly after starting at the hospital, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Tuesday, Armstrong was given the Goodwill-Suncoast Graduate of the Year award during a breakfast at the Belleview Biltmore in Clearwater. Wearing a black pantsuit and a stylish hat that hid hair loss from chemotherapy, she showed no signs of slowing down.
"Anybody can do anything with positive thinking. It's all a mind-set," Armstrong said. "I mean, I'm just breezing through this cancer and the chemotherapy treatment. Really, I think a lot of that is just mental."
Clearly, Janice Armstrong's mind is as powerful as her story.
For more than a year, the Battle of the Media Bands statuette sat proudly in the WFTS-Ch. 28 conference room. Now WFTS anchor Brendan McLaughlin is vowing the trophy will return to that mantle after Friday night's fifth annual clash at Channelside's Pop City.
His confidence is bolstered by the addition of investigative reporter Robin Guess, who will sing a song that speaks to the impact she's had on the community. (I promised not to reveal the song, but think of Guess' aggressive reporting techniques, set to a late '70s new wave anthem.)
"If by some fluke we were to lose, we promise to smash (the trophy) in true rock and roll fashion before handing it over," McLaughlin said.
My years of training as a sports writer have taught me exactly how to bait opponents with such bulletin board material.
"My reply to McLaughlin: Look out pal," said Eric Deggans, Times television critic and resident drummer. "This is the first time in five years of doing this that the St. Pete Times band has actually rehearsed more than once or twice."
Okay that's not as good as Warren Sapp saying Giants defensive end Michael Strahan should use the league's dental plan to fix his Mr. Ed teeth. But it's a start.
WTOG-Ch. 44 and the Tampa Tribune also will have bands and radio/television personality Nancy Alexander will play host. Admission is $5 and proceeds will benefit the Society of Professional Journalists' Minority Scholarship Fund.
As McLaughlin said, it's a good chance to see middle-aged people singing Blink 182 and Jimmy Eat World.
Last May, my beloved, faded 14-year-old couch was moved from the den to the garage -- the equivalent of being placed on death row. Last weekend, I ran out of appeals, and a pardon never came. My wife sold it six hours after placing signs around the neighborhood, and promptly spent the money on diapers and formula.
I would tell you about how I shed a few manly tears before saying farewell, but you know, what happens on the mile stays on the mile.
That's all I'm saying.
-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or Hooper@sptimes.com.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
Times columns today
From the Times Metro desks