Doug Sudduth

Doug Sudduth: Parallel Creative Pursuits

(Doug, high school classmate and lifelong friend, wrote the following story about his rebooting shortly after I started the site in 2008. A 2020 update follows this account)

I had a 38-year career in community mental health – actually 41, since my three-year military service was in the U.S. Army mental health services at Fort Bragg, N.C., and Camp Casey, South Korea.

Throughout my career, in addition to being married to my wife Billie Ruth and raising two sons with her (she says I rebooted when I got married at age 32), I’ve pursued a variety of other activities. Nothing unusual about that, except that it gave me a number of interests that seem to balance my life.

Billie Ruth and Doug Sudduth

I began small boat sailing/racing before I was married, even proposing to Billie Ruth on a small catamaran. This resulted in our wedding bands having engraved inside, for her, port, and for mine, starboard.

Confronting my own priorities

About 20 years into my career I attended a workshop on burnout at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. The group leader asked us if anyone spent at least one hour a week doing something solely for their own interest – and cutting the grass didn’t count. Not even half of us could answer in the affirmative, including me.

That experience confronted me with my own priorities and led to my first rebooting. I decided I wanted to pursue a lifelong passion, singing. I resumed choral singing, first in a church choir (though not even a member of the church), then, joining a small chorale, performing in concerts. Later I took on specific roles as a soloist, a new, challenging and sometimes frightening experience, but exciting. During that time I also had a second religious reboot, having been raised a Southern Baptist, then a few years’ respite as a Unitarian and, finally, the church choir and my family bringing me into the Episcopalian fold.

By adding some acting and choreography to my singing, I discovered a new dimension. This also led me back to barbershop quartet singing, something I had done in high school.

Choral and quartet singing afforded a creative outlet and sometimes, new, exciting, even scary challenges. It was a major stress reliever from the demands of my work. I was the song leader for our weekly Rotary Club meetings and we had a small Rotary Choir.

Parallel to all of the above, for most of my life, has been an ongoing interest in photography. I’ve always had a camera, however simple or cheap. I even had a darkroom, both when I was a bachelor and later after getting married, although with two growing children it was hard to maintain.

For the first time, a real teacher

Photography could be called my second and more gradual rebooting. My skill with photography improved when I took a week’s course at Penland School of Crafts in the Blue Ridge Mountains. My wife, Billie Ruth, taught basketry there.

For the first time, I had a real teacher, Ralph Burns. I had no idea that, less than a year later, I would be living and working just 10 minutes from Penland School. Where we lived at the time, in Bakersville, North Carolina, was like living in a postcard, a smorgasbord of outdoor scenery across four distinct seasons.

Within a year of moving here, I nervously submitted my first photographic work for a competition at the local community college, and for many years have exhibited in area galleries, entered other competitions, and have my own web site (www.dougsudduth.com).  

The magic of lenticular clouds

When we lived in Bakersville, I found a photography niche in lenticular clouds, which form on the lee (wind-sheltered) side of mountain ridges.

Bakersville is 12 miles due north of the Black Mountain Range, which includes Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. So, I was living by a lenticular cloud freeway! It’s hard to miss them, though I only saw 6-8 a year and primarily in cold weather months.

I view my photography re-booting as a way to keep my imagination and excitement alive and well. My photographs have provided so many fascinating conversations with those who view them, truly confirming that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I have been able to share what I see, but, then I often get to hear about what someone else sees in that same image. When you tap someone else’s imagination by expressing your own, you are truly blessed and your own perspective expands.

Some of Doug’s favorite shots:

In order: The heavens are telling… Omaha Beach panoramic… Night owl… I am a rock… Cirrocumulus spectacularOld yellow house

Here’s Doug’s update (April 2020):

In recent years, both Billie Ruth and I have met and overcome major health crises. Billie Ruth went into septic shock from congestive heart failure and I was diagnosed with bladder cancer and lymph node cancer (at separate times). After some tough battles, Billie Ruth has completely recovered, I’m free of bladder cancer, and I’m getting good results on the lymph node cancer from immunotherapy with Keytruda to prevent spreading and shrink the cells. That has continued to date including a successful, brief radiation treatment.

[Update from Doug on 6/25/20: My oncologist believes my immune system is already meeting those two goals to shrink the lymph node and stop the spread of cancer from the boost from Keytruda. So, he stopped Keytruda and will monitor via CT scans in coming months.]

In 2018, after 24 years in the mountains of western NC, we moved to New Bern, NC, a return after 32 years, having raised our two sons there. One son, Mark (hurricanetrack.com) and family, live just south in Wilmington, affording many opportunities with grandchildren. Our other son, Chris and family, are across the pond in London and they visit the U.S. annually.

 I continue my photography, enhanced by membership in the Coastal Photo Club, and Billie Ruth continues her basket weaving with a studio in our converted garage and marketing via her website: brsbasket.com and etsy.com.

(You can view more of Doug’s photography at www.dougsudduth.com)

Doug Sudduth, whose rebooting story is posted above, has had two separate diagnoses of cancer (bladder, lymph node). On both occasions his recovery was aided by his inner passion for reinvention and survival. Here’s how he describes his experience:

When I was receiving chemo and anticipating major surgery for the bladder cancer, I wanted something beyond these serious issues to look forward to. I focused on an area of my life that has been part of my rebooting, planning for a major art/craft exhibit. That exhibit was a collaboration that exceeded our expectations.

Doug following his passion

The bladder surgery was extensive and required the partial removal of some organs. It was successful, but the bladder was the primary site from which the cancer “migrated” to the lymph node. The radiation treatment for that cancer two years after successful treatment was something totally unknown to me and a bit scary. There are lots of technical aspects to preparing for it, getting tattooed on each side below my rib cage and just above my navel, to aim the device. Unknown process and unknown outcome.

I decided to regard the cold hard slab I was lying on as a relaxation/meditation place, something I had been doing throughout my cancer treatment since 2015. In my mind, I could sing, pray, take trips, quotepoems/favorite Bible verses. It was like I wasn’t there on that slab, hardly aware of the machine. Next thing I know, the staff said, “We are finished, you can get up.”

To focus my energy, I thought of something beyond waiting a few months for the scan to confirm the results. I planned a presentation on my lenticular cloud photography to the Coastal Photo Club, which required much prep and incentive.

The bladder cancer has never returned. I’m getting good results on the lymph node cancer from immunotherapy with Keytruda to prevent spreading and shrink the cells.

Almost no one makes it through such challenges without personal support and I would be remiss not to express gratitude to my loving, caring wife and caregiver, Billie Ruth, always there for every infusion, every visit with the oncologist and more, and a cadre of volunteers, drivers, praying, caring family and friends.

I have been convinced for many years, long before my cancer diagnosis, that low points in people’s lives at times uncover some deeper insight or resource that maybe they didn’t know was there. That has certainly been borne out in my case.

Post Script:

“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.”
― Patrick Overton, The leaning tree: [poems]