The thought of losing a child is every parent's worst nightmare. You've probably heard the common saying, “Children are supposed to bury their parents, not the other way around,” and while this scenario is still tragic, it makes a certain kind of sense in the circle of life. Watching cancer take the life of your 12-year-old daughter, on the other hand, does not.
In 2013, Dean and Caroline Orchard's daughter, Athena, was an average preteen. She loved to play sports, write, and spend time with her family. As one of ten kids, there was always some kind of action happening in Athena's house, as well as lots of laughter and love.
Then, just days before Christmas, the unthinkable happened. Athena collapsed in her family home located in New Parks, Leicester, U.K., and was immediately rushed to the emergency room. In the weeks that followed, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of cancer that forms in the bone, and underwent a seven-and-a-half-hour surgery to remove a tumor on her spine. Despite the doctor's best efforts, as well as rounds of chemotherapy targeted at her spine, shoulder, and head, the cancer continued to spread. Shortly after her 13th birthday, Athena passed away at home, surrounded by her family.
However, Athena still had something to tell her family. They didn't know it yet, but she had left them a 3,000-word message, hidden on the back of her bedroom mirror.
It was found by her parents, Dean and Caroline, as they attempted to face the devastating task of sorting through their daughter's belongings.
Her father said, “I couldn't believe it, I saw all this writing, it must have been about 3,000 words. It's so touching. When I first saw it, it just blew me away. She never mentioned it, but it's the kind of thing she'd do. She was a very spiritual person, she'd go on about stuff that I could never understand – she was so clever.”
With words of wisdom like “happiness depends on ourselves” and “every day is special,” it's clear to see just what her dad is talking about.
“I started reading it, but before long I had to stop because it was too much,” her dad also said. “It was heartbreaking.”
While certainly heartbreaking, Athena's words are also an incredible inspiration. To think they were written by a young girl facing an enormous uphill battle only makes them all the stronger.
The last line of Athena's message seems to be written especially for her family. “There's no need to cry,” it says, “because I know you'll be by my side.”
Below are excerpts from Athena's message. Take a minute to read and reflect – she may have been young, but she had some very important things to say.
“Happiness depends upon ourselves. Maybe it's not about the happy ending, maybe it's about the story.
The purpose of life is a life of purpose. The difference between extraordinary and ordinary is that little extra.
Happiness is a direction, not a destination. Thank you for existing. Be happy, be free, believe, forever young. You know my name, not my story.
You have heard what I've done, but not what I've been through. Love is like glass, looks so lovely, but it's easy to shatter.
Love is rare, life is strange, nothing lasts, and people change. Every day is special, so make the most of it. You could get a life-ending illness tomorrow, so make the most of every day. Life is only bad if you make it bad.
If someone loves you, they wouldn't let you slip away, no matter how hard the situation is. Remember that life is full of ups and downs.
Never give up on something you can't go a day without thinking about. I want to be that girl who makes the bad days better and the one that makes you say, “My life has changed since I met her!”
Love is not about how much you say “I love you” - it's about how much you can prove it's true. Love is like the wind, you can feel it, but you can't see it. I'm waiting to fall in love with someone I can open my heart too.
Love is not about who you can see spending your future with, it's about who you can't see spending your life without … Life is a game for everyone, but love is the prize. Only I can judge me.
Sometimes love hurts. Now I'm fighting myself. Baby, I can feel your pain. Dreams are my reality. It hurts, but it's okay. I'm used to it.
Don't be quick to judge me, you only see what I choose to show you … you don't know the truth. I want to have fun and be happy without being judged.
This is my life, not yours, don't worry about what I do. People gonna hate you, rate you, break you, but how strong you stand, that's what makes you … you!
There's no need to cry because I know you'll be by my side.”
Be sure to SHARE Athena's message with your family and friends.