Reflections on the end of a battle with cancer
We often hear about and remember so vividly the day that someone receives a diagnosis or the day that someone passes away from cancer. Throughout their journeys, you hear about their strength and tenacity along the way. However, people rarely talk about the days leading up to someone passing because it is often the most difficult.
In honor of the four-year anniversary of Steven’s death, I want to reflect on the final 16 days of his journey because they show Steven’s true colors, and are the inspiration behind our foundation’s mission.
We spent what seemed like months taking shifts in the hospital after hearing the words, “we are out of options.” In fact, it was 16 days. 16 excruciating and long days, where we didn’t know if it was day or night. We passed the time by telling stories and sharing photos and occasionally cracking a smile, but as Steven’s condition worsened, we were quickly thrown back into reality. The reality that in days or hours, he wouldn’t be here with us. The reality of watching him go from walking to sitting in a wheelchair. From talking to mumbling. From smiling to sleeping.
Steven spent his final days giving “life advice,” since obviously he had a ton of it to share in his short 24 years. He would call individuals or groups into his hospital room, and tell them what they meant to him, and how they should live like there is no tomorrow. He thanked his favorite nurses as they sat by his bedside and cried with him.
He found out that he was out of options, and still bought pizza for the entire group that was there to support him – almost 20 people. He opened his wallet and told us that he would be mad if we didn’t use his credit card to order pizza. “I’m not going to take my money with me,” he said, making sure we covered our bases with extra sauces, side salads, gluten free options, and extra pizzas for the next day.
It’s hard to say which is easier: not being able to say goodbye, or being able to say goodbye but watching your loved one suffer. While it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through, I can say that looking back, the amount of grace that Steven had during this time is overwhelmingly comforting.
I knew that this was scary for him, as I saw him get the news and react in that moment, and then realize it again every time he woke up from a nap, or every time his doctor walked in the room. I know what it was like for me. But Steven realized it 16 times a day, for sixteen days in a row, and then didn’t get to stay and tell his story. Instead, he did it in his actions. His actions of grace, which I believe are translated through each of us who participate in the Steven Vanover Foundation. To help those who have been affected by cancer, and make sure they NEVER have to hear those same words we heard on February 25, 2015.
After four years and raising nearly $400,000, I can’t help but think how proud Steven would be. But I feel like he would tell us, you can do better. Keep going. Keep the faith. There are others out there who need your help. If we can prevent this 16-day stint for others, we would be thrilled. We would be thrilled to say that we lived out the same grace that Steven showed in his final days.