Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Emily Hayward died today

I didn't know her. 

Neither did most of her 52,175 YouTube subscribers.

As ever less of our lives become private, and as companies like Google and Facebook seem to know more about us every day, I've noticed that the "Recommended For You" section of my YouTube page is showing a lot of things to which I never subscribed.  Back when Mr. Brilliant was sick, I did a lot searching for information about cancer.  And because of the work I did until recently, I was always looking for various published papers about disease assessment for various types of cancers, since there are differences between the way, say, solid tumors are measured vs. hematological cancers.

But Google, who now owns YouTube, decided that I would be interested in looking at videos by what is known as "cancer vloggers."  These are people with cancer who document their journeys on video, from diagnosis through treatment, and whatever comes beyond. So one day I clicked on a video by a young woman in the UK named Emily Hayward, who had been battling metastatic melanoma for seven years, since she was seventeen years old.

There were over 250 of her videos. 

I haven't watched all of them.  I know what a time suck YouTube is.  But something about this young woman's ferocity grabbed my attention, and kept it there. 

Emily Hayward was a fitness instructor and cancer warrior.  Diagnosed with melanoma in 2011, lymph node metastasis in 2013, and distant metastases in her liver, lung and brain in 2015, she spent nearly a third of her life battling one of the most dreaded cancers.  It does not appear that she was a sun worshipper; she described herself in one of her videos as "always moley" -- but one of those moles went bad, and today claimed her life at the damnably unfair age of 24.

She was also a lesbian, whose wife, Aisha Hasan, knew she had melanoma when they first got together.  They were married two months ago, both fully aware that their married life would be short.  I think that for me, as compelling as seeing Emily deal with her journey with a toughness and determination that I'm not sure I would have, it was also Aisha, whose wisdom about life and death, and whose stalwart good cheer, loving attitude and level-headedness in the face of what she clearly knew was going to be a shortened life with her soulmate, who grabbed my heart.  I wish that I could have been the kind of caregiver she was.  I wish I could have been like her.  It is one of my greatest regrets that I wasn't.

In the last video before Emily's death, Aisha says before they head out for the latest scan results, "You're going to walk in there with the same amount of stuff in your body as when you walk out. Even if they say you've got 26 tumors, you have those 26 tumors in you right now, and yet you've been to the gym....so it doesn't really matter.  You're still in control of it, I'm still in control of it.  They're just helping by telling us the facts."  Who among us is that wise? Who among us even has the presence of mind at such a time to even be able to think that way?

Five days before her death, Emily was at her beloved gym.  She was able to even write a farewell message on her Instagram page, right down to her trademark opening, "What's going on guys?":

What’s going on guys? After 8 long years of kicking cancer in the ass my body got tired, I achieved everything I wanted to and more. With all my loved ones around me I have now peacefully left you all. Thank you all for your love and support, but most of all thank you for always following my journey and believing in me. Love you all, peace Em 
We talk about people "losing their battle with cancer."  It's a terrible phrase; it makes it sound as if they just didn't TRY hard enough.  The way you win the battle with cancer is not by simply surviving to see another day, or another year, or another fifteen years.  It's by living the life we've got with the people we love, going out on our own terms, and living on in the hearts of those we love, and sometimes, even those we don't even know but who we have touched somehow.  It appears that Emily Hayward was able to do just that. 

Not all cancer vloggers are young, but most of them are.  Some of it is the tendency that young people (and even the not-so-young) have to share everything about their lives.  But for these young people with these horrifying prognoses, there's more to it than just conventional oversharing that young people seem to do these days.  These are people who are too young to have found their ultimate place in the world yet.  They haven't had even the option to have children.  Some, like Sophia Gall, who died earlier this year, never even get to finish high school.  But what they do have is a furious desire to leave their mark; to make their lives meaningful, to let the world know that they were here...and to be remembered.  If their time here is going to be short, they want to make it count, and their message to all of us is to treasure every day we have, because we never know what tomorrow will bring.

You've taught us well.  Now rest, warrior woman.

 
 
(Follow Emily's journey here.)

20 comments:

  1. May her memory forever be for a blessing for all who knew her and knew of her through her writing. Thanks for posting this.

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  2. Thanks for this. I'm a little bit surprised at how gutted I am by this, even though I could tell it was coming. It is just so fucking unfair. 24 years old. Damn.

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  3. I'm with you Jill; gutted. Emily really was such a bright light even in her darkest hours. Feeling for Aisha and hoping she reads your blog entry,

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  4. How very sad .I have followed Emily on you tube .She felt like a friend .Rip.xx

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  5. Totally with you - she was an amazing woman. RIP Emily.

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  6. Absolutely loved her and her partner. Emily is okay now but we need to pray for her loved ones.

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  7. I can envision her entering the pearly Gates of heaven with: "what's going on guys?". I was praying for a miracle. I think all of us who grew to love her and Aisha did. What I realize is that Emily was the miracle!!! God's special messenger of love and hope. A fighter with a smile and words of wisdom, hope, strength and perseverance. Godspeed sweet angel. Watch over all of who loved and admired you. You shall be so sorely missed!!

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  8. Thank you for this touching tribute blog to Emily. I looked forward everyday to her videos, not because she had cancer but because of how full of life both Emily and Aisha were and are. Like you, I was also impressed by Aisha's wisdom in Emily's last video. Emily, you will be missed but more importantly, you made a HUGE mark on this world. Shine brightly in Heaven just as you did on earth Emily.

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  9. So sad to hear of sweet Emily's passing, she was so sweet and positive all the time. How did she stay so strong? Praying for her wife and family.

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  10. Her spirit was incredible and so inspiring. I've never seen anyone like her and I am deeply sorry she is gone. My heart aches for Aisha but I know that she has great strength and will make it because of their love for each other. Bless all of Em's family and loved ones and sweet Emily, may you rest in peace now.

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  11. i didn't know her but i felt like i have by watching her videos. she was an amazing and strong person . she was blessed to have so many pople who loved her. RIP Emily .

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  12. RIP Emily you will be missed .

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  13. wonderfully written and something to really, really think about. Thank you.

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  14. I felt I knew her, and looked forward to her new Vvlogs, rest in peace emily we will all miss you

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  15. Followed Emily for the last couple of months of her life. Her attitude so was positive that I was almost convinced she was going to get better. Aisha is unbelievably wise as you say, she just has a gift of saying the right thing at the right time. Gutted when Emily passed, also gutted reading your comment that young Sophia Gall has passed away too. It got painful watching her videos so I stopped, so it’s heartbreaking to see that young girl has gone too.

    RIP Emily, Sophia and everyone else who has passed from this horrible disease.

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  16. She was a special kind.of person. RIP Em.

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  17. ... she is still so present. Rest in peace Emily. You are always in our hearts.
    Tan.

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  18. My god, how amazing you were and still are, your courage and determination will last forever, your smile makes me smile and your spoken words will continue to help and support others. You became my friend you were a joy a gift already an angel lighting up others lives wherever you went. Keep laughing and doing what you do now you have your wings, fly high sweet girl and ThankYou ..xx

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  19. Thankyou from the heart Emily! ... you gave so much to others positivity hope and life yet yours was cut so short but you lived life more then most I love you and miss Em as if I’ve known you my hole life....I hope your having fun in heaven Peace sweet Emily πŸ’š❤️πŸ§‘πŸ’›πŸ’™πŸ’–people are still subscribing
    Bloody Cancer !!!!

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