I remember clearly the day I met my best friend Heidi. We were in sixth-grade homeroom, and she was new to the school. With our bad glasses and short, permed haircuts, we became fast friends. From that moment on, my life and soul were forever changed. Heidi had a presence and smile that could fill up an entire room. Her blue eyes and “laugh so hard you cry” attitude made life a lot more fun. Over the years, our friendship became more like family. We went from getting dressed for high school homecoming dances to college dorm mates, and eventually helping each other through the transitions of marriage and having children. The two of us always found a way to have fun. Heidi’s giving nature coupled with her ability to make anything a party made her a wonderful soul sister and life sharer.
In October 2014, the unthinkable happened. Heidi sent me a text message saying that doctors found a cantaloupe-sized tumor on her left lung. This seemed impossible to me. How could my full of life, always time for one more friend be telling me this? Weeks later, she was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma – a rare, aggressive form of cancer with no cure. For three years, we stood with Heidi as she battled her disease like a true warrior, clinging to hope until her last breath.
What’s life like without my soul sister?
A few months ago, during a dark day, I saw a video of Joe Biden talking about the death of his son Beau to brain cancer. He spoke about grief and loss, saying, “I wanted people to know what an incredible young man my son was….You know, Immanuel Kant’s phrase, there’s three things to happiness: something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to. It’s all about trying to take what Beau – what I think, what my family thinks – would be doing were he still here and doing it. It gives you a purpose.”
His words hit me like a freight train and described exactly what I had been struggling with since Heidi’s death. Like Biden, I needed a way for Heidi to live on through me. Thankfully, I was already connected with the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life. I contacted my church and became the captain of our team. Along with many others in Euclid and across the nation, we will work together to raise funds for cancer research. Through fundraising and sharing her story, I’m keeping Heidi’s memory alive. And I am healing. One step at a time.[bctt tweet=”It’s all about trying to take what Beau – what I think, what my family thinks – would be doing were he still here and doing it. It gives you a purpose. – Joe Biden on the loss of his son” via=”no”]
Euclid High School will host Relay for Life from 6 p.m. to midnight May 11. To date, we’ve raised about $28,000 of our $50,000 goal. Admission is free.
There is hope in finding purpose. I know I’m not the only person who has made sense of loss and found a way through my grief by trying to make a difference. Finding your purpose after tragedy strikes can truly save your life. For me, this includes the hope that someday we will live in a world where no one has to lose their best friend to cancer.
Others in Northeast Ohio have created tangible ways to make a difference while coping with a lost loved one. Here are three local examples:
Prayers from Maria
Ed and Megan McNamara started Prayers from Maria – Children’s Glioma Cancer Foundation after they lost their 7-year-old daughter Maria to this disease. The foundation is dedicated to funding global research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure of childhood brain tumors (known as gliomas). The McNamara family works to make a difference by raising public awareness and bringing hope to children and their families. A sunflower field was planted in Maria’s honor at 34925 Chester Road in Avon. The field blooms in September, which is also Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. All are invited to visit free of charge.
Clark Flatt lost his full of life, average student, football-loving son Jason at 16 years old to the “silent epidemic” of youth suicide. Clark started The Jason Foundation in honor of his son. The Foundation believes education and awareness can help save the lives of friends, neighbors and relatives.
This foundation was set up to break the silence and bring awareness to the difficult topic of drug addiction. Robby was a fun-loving, Generation Xer who tried anything. He loved rollerblading, athletics, motorcycles and sadly, in the end, heroin. Robby wanted to break free from his addiction, but the grip was too strong. Robby passed away in October 2017 to a heroin overdose. The foundation works to keep Robby’s voice alive and arm parents, students and communities with information to identify the warning signs of substance abuse and the resources needed to live a drug-free life.
FEATURE IMAGE: Emily Holody, left, at her wedding with best friend Heidi