Life Lessons I Learned from #AftonStrong


It’s so much more than a hashtag. #AftonStrong is a cause close to my heart.

Afton Wallace is my second cousin on my mom’s side. Her dad, Rob, and my mom are first cousins. My grandma and her grandpa are brother and sister. Afton and I share great-grandparents. I think that’s how second cousins work.

Afton Wallace is more than just my second cousin. In the last year Afton has taught me to live more fully and love more deeply. She has taught me about courage and fortitude. She has taught me what a real Superhero looks like. She’s half my age but has taught me about the kind of person I want to be: strong, brave, fearless, positive, inspiring, formidable, optimistic, loving, generous.

Afton is a senior in High School in Mississippi. Afton was her high school’s Homecoming Queen last Fall, she was named Miss Warren Central High School, she was voted Class Favorite, was the captain of her swimming team this year,  scored a 33 on the ACT (that’s the 99th percentile), earned a full-ride scholarship to BYU for this Fall, took AP classes her senior year, and is graduating with honors this month [1] . She is quite a smart, accomplished young woman. But the truly remarkable thing is she has done all of this while battling Stage 4 Ewing Sarcoma, a very rare childhood bone cancer that is very aggressive [2] [3].

Afton was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma on May 22, 2014 and was only given a few days to live. Afton had tumors on her pelvic bone, spine, liver, and kidneys. She immediately started chemotherapy and radiation and her progress far exceeded doctor’s expectations. In January of this year we thought things were starting to turn around when doctors declared her to be in remission. However, a short month later Afton relapsed with a significant tumor on her brain. In March scans showed that Afton has numerous tumors growing throughout her body. Since last May, Afton has spent over 120 days in the hospital, undergone 45 radiation treatments, and received 70 doses of chemotherapy. [2]

And through it all Afton has “just kept swimming,” her motto from the movie Finding Nemo. Swimming is something Afton knows well considering she has been competitively swimming since she was in grade school and was a star athlete on her swimming team. Afton’s positive attitude in the face of insurmountable odds has inspired thousands of people, including me, her older cousin. On her Facebook page, Afton Wallace #mymissionisremission, she and her parents post countless videos of Afton singing after chemo treatments and pictures of her bright, smiling face [4]. Afton acknowledges she has her hard moments as well. “You can have breakdown moments cause everyone has breakdown moments, and sometimes you have them every day,” says Afton. “But you have to keep a smile on your face to make it through. You really do.” [1]

As I have watched my sweet cousin face this impossible battle over the last year I am continually humbled by her optimism, good humor, and ability to give to others during, which should be some of her darkest moments. As part of her occupational therapy, Afton has been crocheting infinity scarves and donating them to a clinic for abused women in California. She also reaches out to other cancer patients and lifts their spirits. Anyone would be justified in being angry at their situation and not want to help others and maybe sometimes Afton does feel that way, but she does not show it publicly and instead her generous spirit shines through every time.


This quote by Helen Keller is one of my very favorites. If anyone had reason to give up and wallow in the unfairness of life, it was Helen Keller. Instead she overcame all her disabilities to be a social justice warrior and an iconic and inspirational American. This quote exemplifies Afton to me. Afton has opened a new doorway for the human spirit. Before her, I never knew that a young person could be so hopeful, optimistic, brave, wise and mature beyond her years, and heroic. She has reminded me just how precious and beautiful life is. She has taught me to never take a single day for granted. Her parents, Rob and Sheri, have taught me how precious our children are and how to be a rock of strength when everything inside you is crumbling to pieces. The Wallaces have taught me what true courage looks like. They have taught me more about unconditional love, sacrifice, and faith than I could ever learn from any book. And like I said at the beginning, Afton has taught me to live more fully and to love more deeply than I ever would have before her diagnosis.

Sadly, our hearts all broke last Friday, May 8th, when Sheri made the announcement that Afton’s latest CT and PET scans showed that her latest chemotherapy was not working and her tumors have tripled in size and dramatically increased in number. There are no more standard treatment options available to Afton and her body will not be able to recover enough to participate in a clinical trial. The doctors believe that Afton has less than 3 months to live. [5]

I read the news when I was checking Facebook on a break and I broke down in tears. I cried for Rob and Sheri and the devastation they must be going through. I cried for Afton’s siblings, Kaylynne, Abigail, Scott, and Katie. I cried for Afton and for the life and future she deserves. I cried for Afton’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, 58 first cousins, extended family, friends, and hometown of Vicksburg, MS.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair when this happens to those who want to live the most and have the most to live for.

I thought about Afton and what I could do to help, and there’s nothing I can do except contribute to her GoFundMe page [6]. I thought about how selfless and giving Afton has been through all of this. I remembered that she always felt better after having blood transfusions, and though I have never done it before, I made an appointment for the very next day with the Red Cross to donate my blood. I learned that my blood will help save the lives of three people. If I can’t save Afton’s life, I can at least help someone else. [7]

Despite the odds, Afton is not giving up and neither are the people who love her. We don’t give up. We just keep swimming and we petition the Lord constantly with prayers for continued miracles.

I can’t let myself think far enough ahead into a future that doesn’t include Afton. If and when she passes from this life, whether that’s 90 days or 90 years from now, Afton will leave a great legacy of love, courage, optimism, enthusiasm for life, endurance, strength, grace, and success.


Afton your life has been a success because you made the lives of those who love you better by simply being you.

There are no words in the English language adequate enough to express my deep love and gratitude to Afton and her family. They are a miracle, and through the atonement of Jesus Christ, no matter what happens, we will all be together forever. There is no mutant cell that could ever take that away. Because of His grace, cancer will never win. It can destroy a physical body, but it cannot harm an eternal soul.

Don’t give up. Never quit. Just keep swimming. Just keep smiling. Just keep loving. Give more. Love more. Live more. Enjoy more. Seek out joy. Look for miracles. Never let go.

Those are the lessons I’ve learned from my dear, sweet, younger cousin.

“…unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3

This article is posted with the gracious permission of the Wallace family.

The article was featured on The Huffington Post where Afton herself picked the beautiful pictures that were featured. RIP Beautiful girl.



[2] The Vicksburg Post (

[3] WebMD (

[4] Afton Wallace #mymissionisremission (

[5] Facebook post (

[6] GoFundMe – Afton Wallace (

[7] American Red Cross (

[8] Quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson

For Whom Mother’s Day is Difficult

Mother’s Day is this Sunday and we will collectively celebrate the women who either gave us life or raised us. We will make phone calls, or take them out to lunch, send them flowers, buy them meaningful cards, and express gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us.

Except some of us won’t be doing any of those things on Sunday for a variety of reasons. There is a small club of us for whom Mother’s Day is difficult. This post is for us.

Mother’s Day is difficult for those of us who have lost our mothers, either through death, estrangement, or other reasons. It’s difficult for those who deal with infertility and Mother’s Day is just a reminder of what we don’t have. It’s difficult for those who have lost children and it’s a day that reminds us of what we used to have.

I remember the first Mother’s Day after my mom died. I was 8 months pregnant and completely dreading that Sunday. We all met up at the cemetery to see my mom’s headstone for the first time. She died six months previously and the ground was too hard to install it earlier. I think we went out to lunch afterwards. I can’t remember. Grief has a way of erasing memories. Self-preservation at it’s finest. The next month I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and my mom wasn’t there to hold my hand this time.

Mother's Day

The advertising industry doesn’t realize how hard this holiday is for some of us. They don’t realize how triggering it is to see the umpteenth commercial about the perfect card/flowers/fruit bouquet you should send your mother. They don’t realize how triggering it is for women who are experiencing infertility, or are childless due to life circumstances, to see commercial after commercial reminding them that they’re not a mother when they desperately want to be. And unfortunately some bloggers are devoid of empathy and compassion and like to shame those of us who have deep-seated hurt around this day.

That is why we need to be patient with our tender little hearts. We need to do some self-care and allow ourselves to feel what we feel, without guilt or shame. (For self-care I like to take baths and read, exercise, watch silly movies with my kids, and make snarky jokes). If Mother’s Day is difficult for you for any reason your feelings are valid. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel bad for feeling bad. Give yourself the same empathy and compassion you would give your best friend. Celebrate, or don’t, however you choose this day. For this one day, it is all about you and your tender heart. Protect it.

I acknowledge that I am incredibly lucky. I have four children whom I love and who love me. They keep talking about the things they are making at school for me or the present they all want to buy me to celebrate me on Sunday. They are so sweet. What I want to do on Mother’s Day is gather them around me and embrace each one of them and tell them just how lucky I am to be their mother. They are such good kids with such big hearts. I also have a wonderful mother-in-law, who has always treated me like one of her own kids and is just about the best grandma in the whole world. I have no problem honoring her on Sunday and thanking her for all the sacrifices she has made for her family. All the things she has given to us to help us make our lives better.  All the times she has cheered us on and picked us up when we’ve fallen. Even when we’re ungrateful or don’t acknowledge just how special she is. Sometimes angels masquerade as people, and she is one of them.

mother day

However, Mother’s Day will always be bittersweet to me. No matter how thankful I am to be a mother and to have had a wonderful mother and mother-in-law, there is a part of my heart that will always be missing. It’s in the shape of my Mama Sue. On this day I will wear the necklace I gave her on the very last Mother’s Day we celebrated with her when none of us knew she was sick. I will lay flowers on her headstone and I will thank my God above that one of the bravest, funniest, most loving people I’ve ever known gave birth to me. But I will also mourn because I wish she were here for me to tell her why I’m so grateful I was lucky enough to be her daughter. Alas…alas…

Happy Mother’s Day, to all of us, the motherless, the neglected, the infertile, the childless, the discarded, the abandoned, the weary, the sad. This day is for you too.

This post was featured on The Huffington Post

Oh No! It’s Time for the Father’s Day Whining to Begin

For the irony impaired, this post is a parody of this post

Let me make this perfectly clear: I’m a gal. A female. I have a double X chromosome. And lady parts.

And because I’m a possessor of a double X, some will immediately discount my opinion regarding Father’s Day. It is true: I will never be a dad. I will never experience what it feels like to create sperm, to feel it grow inside me – and that is kind of a bummer, because sperm is awesome. On the other hand, I will never have anyone kick me in the undermeats until I cry like a baby and then have to walk around bow-legged for a whole day. That part? Not such a bummer because tender undermeats is a thing.

What I know about Fatherhood is as a beneficiary, first-hand witness, and supporter of both the men and the Godly institution of fatherhood, spermhood, and such. The righteous nobility of the XY holders!

On a very serious note, I have been greatly blessed in my life, more so than some because I’m just that awesomely righteous: I will also never experienced what it feels like to not be able to have children because my eggs and my husbro’s spermys work. I do not know what it is like to not love my father, or have him not love me. I do not know what it is like to have my children not love, appreciate and acknowledge their own father – my “Eternal Dudebro”. I recognize that I am very privileged in this area. But I WILL NOT recognize the amount of privilege I have when I lay all this self-righteous bull crap on you right now.

Many women, and men, struggle with having children. Some fight for years to conceive – many never do. Please hand me my Captain Obvious cape. This is something I can’t understand on a personal level, but will self-righteously lecture the rest of you on how to handle. Many bravely fight the adoption battle to add a child to their family, which isn’t really a battle and I’m kind of an ass for labeling it that way. Many men have such difficult and frayed relationships with their own fathers. Heartbreak does abound. And yet while I acknowledge heartbreak, I will not be sensitive or empathetic to anyone about theirs and will now lecture you on how all you Father’s Day whiners are harshing my mellow.

Those who are living with that heartbreak deserve our love, and our acknowledgment.. They also deserve to be heard…Except now I’m going to totally discount hearing them with what I’m just about to write by saying…

But not this weekend.

The following are actual comments I received on my blog when I dared sing the praises of Father’s Day:

“Father’s Day just makes me feel guilty for not being a good enough father.” (Risa rates this a level 1 whiner)

“I loathe church on Father’s Day, because it is usually a long, drawn out testimonial to these “perfect” fathers who certainly didn’t get divorced and have kids who all went on missions and got married in the temple. Father’s Day is the WORST day of the year for me, and I’d just as soon it didn’t even happen.” (Risa rates this a level 10 whiner for clarity and depth)

“I would rather my family just pretend that Father’s Day doesn’t exist. The last thing I need is my wife and kids wasting money on things I don’t want or need.” (Risa rates this a level 5 whiner because gifts you don’t need are always a must…stop looking gift Father’s Day horses in the mouth)

“I hate going to Church on Father’s Day because I wasn’t able to have kids.” (Whine s’more whiner, infertility is suuuuuch a bummer topic, whiner level 6)

“I don’t like the fuss they make in church. I don’t. I guess it’s because I struggle with my own relationship with my dad, and I am not sure some days about how good of a dad I am. It’s a hard day, and I dread it like the plague.” (Whine, whine, whine…dysfunctional relationships only get a whine level 3)

Ugh. No, I didn’t make those up. I copied and pasted. (Because I know how to use Word. Thanks Microsoft! Copy and paste is my favorite feature.) Can you believe these whiners? These people are expressing their valid and legitimate issues with this holiday on MY BLOG? Don’t they know I’m devoid of any empathy and compassion? I can’t hear the sound of your whining over my own awesomeness!

There are Father’s Day haters out there, who are quick to let the world know their displeasure. To them I would say:

Excuse me…dudebros: You do understand that everything isn’t always about you, right? I mean, sure Father’s Day is about Fathers and actual Fathers are expressing why this day is hard for them, but they know that Father’s Day isn’t about Father’s right? I’m mean, that is just LOL worthy.

You know that there are other men in the world who actually like Father’s Day, and kind of enjoy being recognized for the most important thing they will do in their lives? Right? I mean, it should be ALL ABOUT THEM. Who cares about your pathetic little feel bads. Again, harshing my mellow with your wah wahs.

And you understand that as you complain about it, and talk about how much you hate it, and how unfair you think it is, can cause these well-deserving fathers to enjoy their day less, right?  I mean, you having empathy and compassion for other people’s pain on your special day is just so not what Jesus would do. Do you think he spends his birthday worrying about all the whiners and how hard Christmas is for them? I don’t think so. Jesus has way better things to do than worry about the hurts of others. Jesus doesn’t care about your hurt little fee fees!

Unbelievably, some in church leadership worry if they should even acknowledge the fathers at church for fear of hurting your feelings, or having you feel left out. Can you even believe these saps have considered being sympathetic and considerate of other people’s feelings???? This isn’t why I go to church! I go so I can feel superior about my privileges and blessings that others don’t have. And your whining is really making it hard for me to feel how blessed I am.

You are emotionally stronger than that…right? Probably not since you’re acknowledging this day is hard for you, but what do I know about being considerate of other people’s feelings? Seeing someone else getting recognition for something you don’t have doesn’t really stir up thoughts of envy, and anguish…does it?  Because I’m very privileged and it really annoys me when people are so jealous of me. It’s like, why are you so obsessed with me? I can’t help it if I’m more popular with Jesus than you and so he rewards me more fully. Only Regina George can truly understand my pain.

So, how about for the next few days we all just take a breath, bite our tongues, and let the Dads enjoy their holiday? There are 51 other weekends a year to vent. Except don’t vent to me, because I am too busy counting all my Jesus blessings to listen to you whiners.

As for me?

This Father’s Day, I’m going to be thinking about how awesomely blessed I am to be fertile, have a good relationship with my dad, that my dad is still alive, and that he never beat me, abused me, ran around on my mom, or all the other legitimate reasons why someone would rightfully feel sad about this holiday.


Because I CAN! Didn’t I just tell you just how privileged I am??? If that doesn’t demand respect and recognition, I don’t know what does in this society anymore!

I would invite those of you who hate Father’s Day to check your emotions, and join with us in celebrating Fatherhood. Think about your own Dad. If that is difficult, mend fences if necessary (Code for repent) because if you have a bad relationship with your Dad, it couldn’t be that he abused you or is an emotionally toxic person…no, it’s your own lack of righteousness! Repent ye sinners! At the very least, we can all celebrate the Institution of Fatherhood. Because sperm is awesome.

But don’t sour it for everyone else. Wait until Monday for that. Get over it whiners. I have no time for empathy and compassion. That’s for suckers who don’t have totes cool blogs like me.