Caudill celebrates life through music

RIO GRANDE, Ohio – The roller coaster of life brings unexpected twists and turns for everyone, with more gut-wrenching moments for some than others.

Bethany Caudill knows that fact all too well.

The University of Rio Grande/Rio Grande Community College alumna is a cancer survivor … who lives with stage 4 Neuroendocrine Paraganglioma.

“Fortunately I’m young enough where they can treat me for it … and because it’s stable they don’t want to go in and give me an unnecessary surgery if they don’t have to,” Caudill said. “I technically do have stage 4 cancer but I live with it. Even my doctor’s don’t understand; they call me their healthy cancer patient.”

Since first diagnosed in 2001, Caudill has undergone one surgery, radiation three times, six months of chemotherapy and scans every six months. She also takes a shot every three months to manage carcinoid syndrome – a side effect of her cancer.

Yet the rollercoaster hasn’t slowed down. Caudill’s latest twist brought her home to southeastern Ohio as a lead vocalist in the outlaw country band The Clarence Light Orchestra (CLO). The group played a Nov. 3 concert to benefit the Rio Grande Music Department.

“That’s my outlet, the band,” Caudill said. “I still have days where I hurt and I don’t feel good. But I have to live. I’m not going to let the disease take hold of me and keep me from living.

“Its almost like something takes over me and I just pour everything out. People always come up to me and say they can just see the emotions come out.”

Those emotions, combined with the musical talents of her fellow band members – Pat Scott (telecaster, acoustic guitar, some vocals), Austin Steele (telecaster), Joey McKinney (mandolin), Rob Trimmer (bass), Zak Toth (drums), Edwards and Caudill – give life to classics made famous by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Gram Parsons, Hank Williams Jr., and so many more.

“We take away from bluegrass a few elements, but we’re mostly an old honky tonk band,” said Jesse Edwards, a fellow Rio Grande alumnus who serves as lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist for CLO.

“We always say we like to play country music for people who like country music,” Edwards continued. “Old-school country; everybody can relate to it. It’s that good music everybody knows, but not a whole lot of people listen to it frequently.”

While the performance is not the groups first on campus, each trip back brings a flood of nostalgia. It was at Rio where then Bethany Woolum, Edwards and CLO manager and sound engineer Jimmy Caudill first met.

As members of The Grande Chorale the trio were instant friends. In fact, Bethany and Jimmy once joked they had eloped during the annual Christmas concert reception hosted at the President’s House in 2001.

“That was before we ever started dating,” Jimmy recalled. “It was the Christmas concert; so first week in December. We were still back on quarters at that point. It was the second week in February when we actually started dating, and then we were engaged in May.”

Bethany said Jimmy forged a ring out of foil from a gum wrapper and she signed her nametag Bethany Woolum-Caudill. She still has the nametag in a scrapbook.

But that’s also when life’s rollercoaster began to test their resolve.

Doctor’s discovered a tumor in Bethany’s abdomen that December, she was diagnosed with cancer early 2002, had the tumor surgically removed in February, graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in Environment Science that spring and took a summer internship with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in Cleveland.

Curiosity, however, proved too much for the budding scientist to resist. Bethany set her love for environment science aside and returned to Rio Grande for her Associate’s Degree in Medical Laboratory Technology (2004).

Today, she works in the Bone Marrow Transplant Program at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital at The Ohio State University Medical Center.

“In a way it kind of went full circle,” Bethany said. “My cancer is stable, and I get to live every day. So I wanted to give back … give back to the hospital that saved my life.”

That same spirit inspired Sunday’s benefit concert. The Rio Grande alumni and former classmates attribute much of their current success in life to the bonds forged through the Grande Chorale and Music Department.

Jimmy Caudill also works as Head Chef and General Manager for AVI Food Systems at Century Link in Columbus, while Edwards is Assistant Manager at Guitar Center in Columbus.

“I have a great respect for Dr. (Chris) Kenney in the Music Department there at Rio Grande,” Edwards said. “He’s both a friend and a mentor. You want to give back to your school and everything. You want those people to be proud of your accomplishments. We’re glad to give the proceeds to the department because we know that Dr. Kenny and the department will make good use of it.”