Go Into the Light

Go Into the Light

From A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Go Into the Light

Until about six years ago, the most unique commodity in Gilroy, California was garlic; and then a little angel was born. Shannon Brace was a miracle baby born to her mother, Laurie, who had been told years before that she could never have children. She had been carrying twins for three-and-a-half months when one of the twins died. Little Shannon then showed her first courageous signs of never giving up and held on for life. Shannon was diagnosed at age two-and-a-half with cancer. Her doctors said she would not live long, but with love and determination she lived a couple more years.

At one point, doctors needed to harvest bone marrow from her pelvic bone. Shannon had an endodermal sinus tumor, or germ cell cancer. Only 75 out of 7,500 children who get cancer each year are diagnosed with germ cell cancer.

Shannon experienced two years of chemotherapy before she had a bone marrow transplant. It is a life-threatening operation with an unsure outcome. An autologous bone marrow transplant along with a near-lethal dose of chemotherapy kept her teetering along the path of life and death.

She was told she would never walk after chemotherapy and she would be paralyzed. She did walk, although she weighed only 27 pounds. Laurie said, “The will these children have is incredible.” Her courage was astounding even up to the end, with a vivacious commitment to never give up. Shannon received a trophy at a Santa Clara beauty pageant, an award for courage.

Shannon’s father, Larry, was disabled from a motorcycle accident that broke his back, neck and both legs—around the same time Shannon’s disease was discovered. Larry, who stayed home during the day with Shannon, says, “She had the strongest will to live. She wanted to prove people wrong.”

Laurie explains that her family lives on hope. You’d never know that Shannon understood she was dying by watching her. She was always full of enthusiasm, love and an overwhelming concern for others around her. During Shannon’s stay at Stanford Medical Center, she lost more best friends in a few short years to death than most elderly people do in a lifetime.

During one of Shannon’s more sober moments, she awoke at night, sat up straight and, holding her parents tight, she asked her mother not to make her go to heaven. Laurie responded with her voice breaking, “God, how I wish I could promise you.”

Sometimes she was even a little stinker. In a grocery store one day with her mother, a friendly man decided to be humorous as he said, “You sure shaved his head close!” Not meaning to offend, Shannon responded, “You know, sir, I am a little girl and I have cancer and I might die.”

One morning with Shannon coughing excessively, her mom said, “We’ll have to go to Stanford again.”

“No, I’m okay,” Shannon piped up.

“I think we need to go, Shannon.”

“No, I only have a cold.”

“Shannon we need to go!”

“Okay, but only for three days or I’m hitchhiking home.”

Shannon’s perseverance and optimism afforded her a full life to those who were blessed to surround her.

Shannon’s life was concentrated outside of herself and her needs. At times when she would be lying in a hospital bed very ill, she would often jump up to assist a roommate upon hearing of their needs.

Another day, seeing a stranger walking by their home looking very sad, she ran outside, handed him a flower and wished him a happy day.

And on another occasion, as Shannon was lying in the Stanford Children’s Hospital one Friday afternoon, moans slipped past her lips as she held her favorite, but worn, blankie. Coming out of anesthesia, she alternated hiccups and sobs. Again, she pushed past her needs as she inquired to the well-being of those around her.

One of her first questions was to her mother just as her eyelids were opening: “How you doing?”

“I’m fine, Shannie,” said her mom, “How are you?”

As soon as her hiccups and cries passed, she said, “I’m okay.”

Shannon got directly involved in local fund-raisers, as their family’s insurance wouldn’t cover her treatment. She walked into a Gilroy cannery and walked up to the first person she saw and began carrying on a conversation. She was full of light and love for everyone. She never noticed differences between people. She eventually said, “I have cancer and I might die.” Later, when this same man was asked if he would donate tin cans from his cannery to Shannon’s cause, he said, “Give her anything she wants, including a business card.”

Shannon’s mother, Laurie, summarizes Shannon and other terminally ill children in the following way: “They take every bit of life and pull it out to the end. They are not important anymore; it is the world around them that is important.”

At age four, as little angel Shannon was hovering between life and death, her family knew it was her time to go. Gathering around her bedside, they encouraged her to walk toward the tunnel of light. Shannon responded, “It’s too bright.” Encouraged to walk toward the angels, she replied, “They are singing too loud.”

If you were to walk by little Shannon’s headstone at the Gilroy cemetery, you would read this from her family: “May you always walk hand in hand with the other angels. There is nothing in this world that will ever change our love.”

On October 10, 1991, the Dispatch, Gilroy’s local newspaper, ran this letter that 12-year-old Damien Codara wrote to his friend Shannon before she died:

Go to the light, Shannon, where those who have gone before you wait, with anticipation of feeling your presence. They will welcome you with open arms, combined with love, laughter and feelings that are the happiest that could be possibly felt by anyone, on earth or in heaven. Shannon, there is no pain or suffering. Sadness is an absolute impossibility. When you enter the light you can play with all of your friends that mysteriously disappeared while you were so gallantly battling the evil plague of cancer, and dodging cleverly the Grim Reaper’s angry hand of the darkness that he possesses.

Those that are still on earth will certainly miss you deeply and long for your sense of specialness, but you will live in our hearts and spirits. You are the reason that all people who knew you were somehow brought closer to each other.

What is truly amazing is the way that, no matter what problems or complicated obstacles you had confront you, you consistently overpowered and overcame every one of them. However, sadly the final confrontation overcame you. Instead of thinking that you gave up, we admire your braveness and gallantry. We are somewhat relieved that you are finally going to feel the freedom of being a regular little girl and know that you’ve probably accomplished more than most of us will ever accomplish.

The hearts you’ve touched will never lose the feeling of love. So, Shannon, when you suddenly find yourself alone in a dark tunnel and a pinpoint of light is visible, remember us, Shannie, and find the courage to go into the light.

Donna Loesch

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