This is the true joy in life – being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” – George Bernard Shaw
A good friend and former colleague, Erin Pianko Howarth, shared this quote back in 2009 during her fight against cancer. It appeared in my Facebook memories today. She ultimately lost her battle with breast cancer on Oct. 17, 2011. Erin was 34.
I write that she “lost” her battle with cancer, but that doesn’t truly seem accurate. Even though Erin is no longer here on earth, I believe Erin won her fight against cancer.
She won because she stayed positive. She won because she inspired others to action. She won because even now, nearly four years after her death, people still remember her, miss her, talk about her.
Her Facebook page remains in memory of her, and people still regularly post to it. You can read her story in her words on Facebook also. Be sure to have tissues handy.
The memories and comments from Erin’s friends, family and even strangers are wonderful: most mention her radiant smile, her quirky sense of style, her friendliness to anyone she met. Erin applied to and appeared on an episode of Say Yes to the Dress (Season 5, Episode 11: Dress Mates). From this, many strangers learned of her story.
I met Erin through work at Rollins College, before any of this took place. I would echo the words of those who knew her better and longer than I: she was a bright, bubbly and truly genuine person.
None of us knows how long our time will be on this earth. I lost a friend in high school who was barely 16; I lost another friend after college who was only 26. My grandmother is now 92 and arguably in better condition than many much younger than her!
The conclusion I draw from these experiences is that what is important is how we live, not how long. Fight the good fight. When the Lord chooses to call me home, I hope that I will have used my time well.
Truly, while life can always be worse, it surely wasn’t easy for Erin to face breast cancer with such a beautiful smile and uplifting attitude. She fought the good fight, and in so doing left her mark on the world.
If you would like to honor Erin or feel moved by her story, the family long ago requested donations to Young Survivors Coalition in lieu of flowers.