While I can’t say that I knew Seana well in high school – or at all, really, in the years that followed – I can say that the sheer senselessness of her passing away this past weekend from ovarian cancer at the age of thirty-two is something that has left me thoughtful about what kind of person she was, and regretful about not knowing her better than I did.
After all: Everything I thought I knew about her was wrong.
At Cedarbrae, I remember thinking of her as diminutive (she got a purple belt in jiujitsu after being diagnosed with cancer), moderately bright (she had an M.Sc in neuroscience, and published in the Journal of Surgical Oncology) and only now do I realize that she was probably just a person with the confidence to know who she was without having to posture over it.
Congratulations, Seana – you figured out high school while the rest of us were still in it.
Most of all, though, I remember the time that somebody told me she was ‘super religious’, causing me to do the thing that any good teenage atheist does when they hear this: Dismiss that person as completely devoid of any capacity to genuinely comprehend joy, life or reality.
I was that stupid.
We were all very young and, I’m sure, made a lot of mistakes.
But Seana stared down the worst in life, and gave back the best.
Even in the short time I’ve spent checking out the community that rallied around her, it’s clear to me that this was someone who was intensely, intensely loved. Somebody who did amazing and passionate things, both before and after her diagnosis. Seana drew the toughest hand imaginable and went on regardless.
Under the onslaught of institutional fundraising, we’ve become so inundated with cancer-battle stories that sometimes I think we risk not appreciating the psychic weight that the condition places on people, and especially people our age.
Think about how much courage it really takes to stand in front of a camera and talk about having a deadly disease when the rest of your friends are making YouTube videos about their newborn children. Think about how much integrity you really need to continue writing and researching in a field of study geared towards helping people other than yourself while everyone you know is out trying to get their requisite sliver of consumer garbage.
Think about how brave you have to really be to face all of this and still fall in love with somebody, and love them so much that you let them fall in love with you.
And I’m not saying that all people who struggle with cancer don’t go through this. What I am saying is that to have to struggle with these things at an age where the world is supposed to be opening up in front of you represents a feeling that, for those of us who are her peers, is unimaginable.
Thinking about it is all we can do, and all we can think is: How could this happen?
But it did. And it does.
And that, compared to the way that her family and close friends must feel right now, would only be the thinnest of shock-waves.
But for those of us who were her peers, but not close to her – those who will hear about her passing from a friend of a friend, or just see it a few times on Facebook, or even only learn about it months from now – I hope that we will look at Seana’s story and be inspired.
Stop thinking you can’t start something new. Stop believing you can’t walk away from something stupid. Stop trying to fix things that want to be broken. So what if your thirties aren’t what your twenties thought they would be?
Stop being so disappointed all the time: You are alive.
It’s hard to imagine that somebody who lived so fiercely, and in the face of such adversity, would have wanted to inspire anything else.
Seana, I have the smallest, music-box-crystalline memories of you: A few plays, a song you posted that I still love, and the one thread of messages that we had about how you were doing after I heard you got sick.
I wish I had those messages right now, but I only have this.
You were beautiful and kind and I wish I had said so.
(Note: In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to Ovarian Cancer Canada.)