About two and a half years ago a 17-year-old girl learned something about herself that would change her life. I learned a lot about her, too, and in many ways she changed my life. That girl was my cousin, Shelley Smith, when she found out she had cancer.
She was an athletic, perky, energetic person who radiated happiness in all that she did. When Shelley was young, her uncle gave her the nickname of Smiley. Her smile was a permanent feature that seemed never to leave her face. As she grew into a beautiful young woman, her smile continued to shine.
Then came that day she and her family would never forget. The doctors told her that she had a rare form of bone cancer, acute osteogenic sarcoma, found mostly in adolescents. I'm sure Shelley was upset, crying and hugging her parents, wishing this was all a bad dream. But it was what she did next that made her special. Shelley smiled.
The power of that single curved line on her face told everyone else that she was going to be okay, no matter what happened. Refusing to let her diagnosis get her down, Shelley said that she was going to fight this cancer and keep smiling.
Over the next two years there were tears, struggles and hurdles: losing her hair from chemotherapy treatments, the amputation of her leg after the chemo stopped working and made the tumor in her leg grow, and the news that despite the amputation to prevent the cancer from spreading, it had moved to her lungs, arms, pelvis, stomach and skull.
I know the tears were there—I saw them in Shelley's eyes every time she told us about the cancer's spread. I saw the rivers of tears pouring down the faces of her family as they couldn't help but ask, why? But through it all, after the shock of each blockade, she would smile.
When I think about Shelley now, I think of what James the apostle and half-brother of Jesus Christ wrote: "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials" (James 1:2). That's what Shelley did.
She chose to smile and press forward. She didn't know why she had this trial, but she knew that frowning wouldn't help. She didn't want everyone to be sad that she had cancer; she wanted everyone to smile and be happy that she had life at all.
During this year's recent Thanksgiving time here in America, I couldn't help but think of Shelley. I'm thankful that I got to spend 20 years with her, and I'm thankful for all that she taught me throughout her battle with cancer. She lost that battle Sept. 19 of this year, but she left behind this valuable lesson. I know now that there is no trial too big; nothing I can't endure with a smile on my face. If Shelley could keep smiling during everything she suffered, I, too, can "count it all joy" when I have trials that seem too heavy for me. I know that the next time Shelley opens her eyes in the resurrection, she will be smiling when she is given the opportunity to live forever.
You can read more about learning these lessons from the Vertical Thought archives in "Do You Choose Happiness?"
Consider the power of a single curved line. Whether your struggle is a health problem, stress at school, a disagreement with a family member or friend or whatever… remember to smile. VT