Do You Think You Can Make a Difference in the World
AUTHOR: BRIAN MAHON
So how do you go about writing a blog about the death of your daughter? Although it is much more common for a daughter to do that for her father, no one gets to set the course for their life. Instead we must trust that the trials God calls us to go through have a purpose in His sovereign will.
Amy Margaret Mattingly, nee Mahon, was born in London, Ontario on July 16, 1985. She was our middle child between her two brothers, Justin the eldest and Nick the youngest. From an early age it became apparent that Amy was an outgoing social child who enjoyed spending time with others. Sharon and I still remember putting Amy on a blanket on the front lawn of our home in London having many of the kids on our street playing with her when she was just 1 year old. Because of her big smile and happy spirit, she had a way of drawing people into her life. As a result, Amy was never at a loss for friends and many of them remained close even until her passing.
Amy loved baseball and boy could she play. She could hit, catch and throw like a guy. When the outfielders saw that a girl was at the plate they would move in, then she would often crank one over their heads for a home run, smiling all the way around the bases. She could throw from 3rd to 1st so hard that she would nail anyone running to first who was not going flat out. Looking back, they would see it was Amy who had just thrown them out.
Amy grew up loving color and design. She became passionate about her art while in high school. As a result, she attended Humber College in Toronto for multimedia design. Amy, like her brothers, was definitely determined to succeed in life, not inclined to let things go if she knew that a principle was at stake and she was in the right. She wouldn’t give up. At her graduation at Humber there had been a mistake made on Amy’s marks and she had been told she was on the Dean’s honour roll, but when we arrived at the ceremony she discovered it had been denied her because she was short of 80% by 0.2 marks. Before the ceremony was over, Amy had secured her 80% and they had to redo her diploma. Now that was Amy at her best, principled and passionate!
This determined, social, and loving girl was the daughter God gave to us. Amy embraced life with a fortitude, especially in her last year, that impressed Sharon and I and her brothers along with her family and friends. So why did I title this blog “Do you think you can make a difference in the world?”.
This particular declaration, as outrageous as it may sound, is the best way to describe Amy’s life. Let’s be honest, most people would look at such an assertion and ask, “Is it truly possible for me to make a lasting difference in this world?” Amy believed that it was possible, and she lived her life in such a way to prove that it was.
I know what you are thinking right now, that this is going to be the ramblings of a proud father who has lost his daughter to cancer, and you would be right. But if you were to ask any of the many people Amy helped along the way, they would tell you what a difference she made during the last year of her life. You see, Amy died on April 5, 2018 from bowel cancer but, rather than wallowing in self-pity over her terminal cancer diagnosis, she spent the time she had left focused on caring for others, determined to make a difference. Amy would often say that cancer is not a battle where there are winners and losers. Instead, she chose to focus on living life each day, learning to appreciate all that had been given to her. Amy embraced the simple joys of life, such as having a coconut milk latte at the “Doghouse” in Bradford-on-Avon, while petting the dogs that came by her table.
Sharon and I spent much of the last year of Amy’s life living with her and her husband, Chris in the UK. We were so blessed to have been able to stay with them, witnessing all that went on in their lives. They were gracious to us in every way, for which we are extremely grateful.
Amy and Chris lived in Bradford-on-Avon in a 1690’s home that they were restoring together. When you entered the house, you quickly noticed that Amy had a Pinterest board in each room showing exactly what it would look like when the renovations were complete. Amy lived to see about 95% of the work finished and then after her death, the pieces came together to complete the final room. In going through Amy’s computer after her death, we discovered the color she intended to paint the pantry door. As if to make one final acknowledgement of her vision, Chris painted the pantry door chartreuse, a bold choice but a fitting one for Amy. Although she never got to see their home fully completed, she had already envisaged the whole look from beginning to end.
Color and design were Amy’s thing. We know of at least two other people that Amy was helping with colors and Pinterest boards. One thing that Amy never got to do was relax in the finished garden. She would have loved to have been able to sit there and enjoy all the beauty that their garden had to offer overlooking Bradford-on-Avon.
Make no mistake, Amy wanted to make a difference in the world. I should know. She made a huge difference in my life by helping me to see how little changes can result in huge benefits to others. She never went to a chemo treatment when she didn’t dress up in some outrageous colors or looks. She said that at her particular stage in life she was free to express her eclectic use of colors so that she might cheer others up in the chemo ward, “a very down place” (her words). Amy’s looks were so numerous and her use of makeup so beautiful that people had a hard time seeing her as one who was suffering with cancer. She looked that good on the outside. She said to me more than once, “People just don’t seem to get it that I am dying on the inside.”
Amy taught me that any one of us can #dosomething to change the world for the better if we are just willing to try. She did more in achieving this goal in one year than most people accomplish in a lifetime (proud father bias). Amy opened the minds of many people to the necessity of making change within one’s life so as to appreciate the simple joys of living. Once, when we were sitting in the garden, Amy tired and in pain, looking up at a blue sky, billowing clouds, singing birds and swaying trees, said to me, “have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”
Amy would say that each day presented a “choice” as to whether she would wallow in self-pity or get up and move forward in life, enjoying the day to its fullest. Amy always chose the latter, saying, “let’s get on with it”, even if that day was destined to present a discouraging setback. She wrote these words about dealing with cancer, “I’ve been really open about my life with cancer. I have written and tweeted through all of the ups and downs and tried to be as honest as possible. I want to give others real insight into what it’s like.” When Amy entered the hospital for the last time and the doctor told us all that there was nothing more they could do, Amy’s response to was “we always knew that this day was coming, so keep me comfortable.” Even in palliative care I can still remember Amy saying how good a cold Coke tasted on her throat even though she knew and could not keep it down.
I can’t tell you how many people Amy helped in their own walk with cancer, because, of course, I have not met them all. I did, however, meet a man at her memorial who insisted he was alive because Amy told him that having a “stoma” (an opening in the abdomen to allow the waste to exit the body) was no big deal. She told him to choose life and get the stoma – and he did. He drove the two hours to the memorial just to tell us his story.
All you had to do was to witness the gratitude in his eyes and know that Amy had made a huge difference in his life. Or perhaps it was the young lady who, when presented with the same symptoms as Amy, having read her blog, went to her doctor and asked to be tested. The doctor told her that she was too young to have bowel cancer. This was exactly what Amy heard the first time she went to her doctor and instead was prescribed cream for hemorrhoids. This young woman had the fortitude not to back down, insisting that her doctor read Amy’s blog “catslovepeanutbutter.com”. After reading it he agreed to have her tested. When they performed the colonoscopy they discovered she had cancer which she was able to be treated for. You see, colon cancer is no longer a disease of the aged but it is now presenting itself in much younger people.
Amy’s story was also presented in the UK parliament by her member of parliament who was pushing for earlier testing for colon cancer. In addition, she, along with three other young colon cancer patients, met with some of the Lords at a function in London to convince them that this was a critical issue that needed to be addressed by the NHS (National Health Service) and supported financially by the government. In this way they not only helped to raise funds for cancer research in the UK, but also increased awareness of the need for colon cancer research, especially amoung the young. In just the last few years colon cancer screening has been changed by the NHS, so that colonoscopies can now be obtained at an earlier age.
Amy was known as the lady in the “gold cape.” She decided to walk (as many times as she could) between Bradford-on-Avon and Bath along the boat canal to raise money for colon (bowel) cancer research. She did that 2-plus hour walk many times but always with the gold cape and others with her. The cape, you see, was a symbol of how Amy approached life, always pushing forward. When people asked her about the reason for the cape, she gladly shared her story and as a result many said, “I want to contribute to that.” On one occasion when Amy was making this walk with some girlfriends it started to rain so the others begged off, but not Amy. She was determined to complete the walk and she did. We still have her marked gold cape. Amy even wore it to chemo treatments, to keep things fresh and interesting.
A close friend of Amy’s said that she was “a fixer.” She didn’t like to see others hurting and would try to help them if she could. Even in the midst of her horrible chemo regimens, Amy’s desire to help others never stopped. Amy was a generous soul who, when given the chance, lovingly cared for those who crossed her path. A recent event once again reminded me of Amy. At the memorial for Ravi Zacharias, his daughter recounted, “Ravi had the ability when you were in front of him of making you feel that you were the most important person in the world, that you were valued.” That is the way Amy made you feel when you were one-on-one with her. Her love of life was infectious. For example, the Thursday before she went into the hospital for the last time, she made a meal for Chris, Sharon and I, but unfortunately became so violently ill that she was unable to eat it. Who does something like that when they are that close to dying? Someone who cares more about others than herself.
So how does someone deal with a terminal cancer diagnosis? Amy wrote the following when facing the terrible hardships of her cancer, “I have decided it’s random. Some people have to take an extra lump. Hardship doesn’t discriminate. It affects good and bad, old and young, moms and dads and daughters and sons. It’s not fair. We just get the hand we’re dealt and make of it what we can.”
So what are we to make of our own lives? I believe from watching Amy that the power to make meaningful change is within each one of us. The power to help others is a choice. It just means giving up of ourselves. We have a beautiful word in our vocabulary to describe this, it is called being “selfless.” Am I willing to give up my own self-interests to care more for others? That is the greatest legacy of Amy’s life and one I am trying in some small way to emulate.
Every day when we were in the UK I would always look to hug Amy and say “Did I tell you today, Amy, that I love you?” She would always say “I know you do, Dad.” Her comeback line was always with a little glint in her eye “but who is your favorite daughter?” “You know Amy, you are my only daughter. You are my favorite daughter!” It has taken me quite some time to be able to thank God for the 32 years He gave me with such an incredible daughter. I will never forget her. … Amy, honey, “did I tell you today that I love you?” I do … and I always will!