Belmont native Mikie Cearley hears the clock ticking.
His on again, off-again battle with cancer has gone on for 12 years now.
A stem cell transplant, many surgical procedures, time in a wheelchair, stretches of being bedridden – he's been through it all.
Cearley, 52, of Charlotte hopes the experimental treatment he's just started taking will be the cure he's been looking for.
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It's his last shot at beating Hodgkin's lymphoma. The former sports writer has tried just about everything else.
Cearley's life began being abandoned as a newborn infant. He recently told me how his parent or parents dumped him on the front steps of the Sisters of Mercy in Belmont.
A Belmont couple adopted him. His new mother, who couldn't have children of her own, told him he was the answer to her prayers.
When he was older, she explained how he'd been left with the Sisters of Mercy as a sickly, premature baby. The sisters had prayed over him and named him Mikie after the archangel Michael.
Until recently, Cearley kept all this to himself. He was too embarrassed. But it eventually came out.
When Cearley filed for disability because of his illness and went to the Gaston County Courthouse for a copy of his birth certificate, there wasn't one.
The only record of him was June 30, 1955 – the date of his adoption. That was the date he'd always celebrated his birthday, but the fact was Cearley had no idea when he was born.
Cearley was adopted by the late Guy and Faye Cearley. They had quite a story.
A Georgia native, Guy Cearley had been a Marine during World War II. His platoon was bombed in the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. The experience bothered Guy Cearley for the rest of his life.
Faye Cearley was from Watauga County in Western North Carolina. At age 7, her father was shot and killed in a boundary line dispute; she went to an orphanage.
How the couple met each other, Mikie Cearley doesn't know. But they were there for him in his time of need.
Hanging out at the police station where his uncle, Garrett Murphy, was chief; night-time cruises on the South Fork and Catawba rivers aboard a friend's houseboat, watching moonlight reflect in the water; buying his first Beatles record at C.D.'s Newsstand on Main Street. The flashbacks stirred Cearley's laughter.
Cearley played football at South Point High until an injury grounded him in the 10th grade. That's actually how he got into the news business. Cearley started keeping game statistics and phoning the results to newspapers.
He landed a part-time job in the Observer sports department – writing briefs and copyrunning. He rubbed shoulders with sports editor Whitey Kelley, who chomped an unlit cigar and had his own radio show.
Cearley was hooked on sportswriting. He spent three years in the Air Force in the military information field, earned an English degree from UNCC, and worked with the Observer again before joining the Gaston Gazette. As a freelancer, he turned out copy for dozens of newspapers.
I also heard about Mikie Cearley's problems. Alcohol was one. The worst was gambling.
Never a high roller but constantly in debt, he maxed out about a dozen credit cards.
“I lost the house,” Cearley said. “And my marriage was falling apart.”
In the mess he'd made of his life, he rediscovered his faith and turned things around.
About that time, he also found out he had cancer.
Keeps on trucking
Cearley's treatment options appeared to have run out in November.
But the new drug gave him a glimmer of hope. His attitude was: If it doesn't cure me, maybe it'll cure other cancer patients in the future.
Round one of the treatment has made Cearley feel better. He's out of the wheelchair, walking the neighborhood and attending Stowe Memorial Baptist Church in Belmont.
“He says he's fine when he looks like he's going to fall over dead,” said church member and longtime friend Ruby Harvey. “When everybody else is moaning and complaining, Mikie keeps on trucking.”
Cearley has seen his share of hard knocks but “stuff has never seemed to bother me,” he told me. “A sense of humor is a great gift.”
So is this simple message he left with me: You should feel lucky every day you wake up.