Athena was, by all accounts, a beautiful and incredibly bright young woman and at only twelve years old, that already put her way ahead of the curve. Even in a family of ten kids, she had six sisters and three brothers, Athena seemed to stand out, to shine just a little bit more.
As evidenced by the title of this story, Athena’s short life would take a most tragic turn. By the end of this tale though, you may find, as Athena did, that “Maybe it’s not about the happy ending, maybe it’s about the story…”
One Big Family
To say that Athena had a big, loving family was a bit of an understatement. Her parents, Caroline and Dean, had ten children and they loved them all equally. They had ten wonderful children: Naysa, one, Letissia-Dior, two, Indika-Mayah, four, Tiana, five, Harley, eight, Porscha and Ethan, 11, Clayton, 14, and Ria, 17, and of course, 12-year-old Athena.
It was just before Christmas and the family was gearing up for what was bound to be another in a long line of chaotic holidays. Athena, helping as she always did, was in the kitchen of their home in New Parks, Leicester, England, when she suddenly felt faint. Before anyone could move to help her, she collapsed…
Caroline and Dean took their daughter to the doctor straight away. Weeks of scans, tests, and biopsies followed and by the time they were all done, Athena had a diagnosis: and it wasn’t a good one. Athena had osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer and if they wanted to try and treat it, they had to act fast.
Things moved quickly after that. Athena was rushed in for an emergency seven-and-a-half hour operation to remove a tumor the scans had located on her spine. They succeeded in removing it, but the surgery was only the beginning. Poor Athena would have to endure months of chemotherapy to come…
The cancer was in her spine, her shoulder, and her head, and though the doctors had high hopes for chemotherapy, the odds were certainly against her. In the meantime, Dean gave up his job as a landscape gardener to help full-time mother Caroline care for their very sick daughter.
Despite all that she was going through, Athena’s strength continued to shine through. Throughout everything, she remained positive, even while she was in the hospital. She even made sure her mother and father ate when they stayed there with her. It was just the kind of person she was, always thinking about others…
Difficult Times Ahead
Athena lost all of her hair and much of her strength, but she never seemed to lose that positivity. Despite the doctors’ best efforts, however, Athena’s condition deteriorated more quickly than expected. Osteocarcinoma, especially the type that Athena had, is an aggressive cancer and eventually, she became too weak to even get out of bed.
It Takes its Toll
The brave thirteen-year-old fought the disease for months. She used every scrap of positivity in her arsenal, but eventually, the treatments and the pain took their toll. Athena died at home, surrounded by her family. The Orchards were left picking up the pieces of their broken family, but they never expected what would happen next…
An Arduous Task
After Athena lost her fight with cancer, Dean and Caroline Orchard knew that the next step was rolling up their sleeves and sorting through her things. They had no idea that in her room, on the back of her mirror, Athena had left them something that would bring them closer to understanding who she was than they ever thought possible.
Athena was, as I said before, a clever girl. She knew she was dying and that her family was going to be heartbroken because of it. Before she went, she made sure that the world, and specifically her loved ones, knew what her final thoughts were. She wrote a message to them, scrawled on the back of her bedroom mirror…
The message revealed Athena’s true feelings on life, love and the tragic situation she had found herself in. The note revealed her unshakeably positive attitude, and gave advice to her siblings and her parents. “Every day is special, so make the most of it,” the note said. “You could get a life-ending illness tomorrow so make the most of every day. Life is only bad if you make it bad…”
Dean Orchard was beside himself as he started reading the note. It was almost too much for him. “It was heartbreaking. I couldn’t believe it, I saw all this writing, it must have been about 3,000 words…She never mentioned it, but it’s the kind of thing she’d do. She was a very spiritual person, she’d go on about stuff that I could never understand – she was so clever.” Her mother had equal praise for their daughter as well…
“We knew that Athena loved to write, that was part of who she was, it made her happy,” explained Caroline Orchard. She described her daughter as the bravest person she knew, not just for the fight against cancer, but for who she was prior to that. The rest of the note delved into Athena’s spirituality and indicated a wisdom that was far greater than her age.
She wrote in marker on the back of the mirror and spoke of purpose, including her own. “The purpose of life is a life of purpose. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra…Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about. I want to be that girl who makes the bad days better and the one that makes you say my life has changed since I met her!” She spoke about happiness and love too…
Athena said that “Happiness is a direction not a destination. Thank you for existing. Be happy, be free, believe, forever young. You know my name, not my story. You have heard what I’ve done, but not what I’ve been through…” She added that “Love is like glass, looks so lovely but it’s easy to shatter.”
Her words on Love were perhaps the most moving. “I’m waiting to fall in love with someone I can open my heart to. Love is rare, life is strange, nothing lasts and people change.’ If someone loves you, then they wouldn’t let you slip away no matter how hard the situation is. Remember that life is full of ups and downs…” That wasn’t all she had to say about love…
Personally, it was her next phrase about love which resonated most with me. “Love is not about how much you say I love you – it’s about how much you can prove it’s true. Love is like the wind, you can feel it but you can’t see it. I’m waiting to fall in love with someone I can open my heart to…” She would never get a chance to find that love she was waiting for. I don’t care who you are, that hurts.
Athena also wrote about people judging her in posterity. “Don’t be quick to judge me, you only see what I choose to show you… you don’t know the truth. I just want to have fun and be happy without being judged. This is my life, not yours, don’t worry about what I do. People gonna hate you, rate you, break you, but how strong you stand, that’s what makes you… you!” After they’d read it, her parents decided to share the note with the world…
“There’s no need to cry because I know you’ll be by my side.” says Athena. Dean and Caroline Orchard did cry, but they were tears of joy and pride. They discussed the note with their other children and the entire family agreed that they wanted to honor her memory and the purpose of the message itself by sharing it on the Internet.
After the note went viral, Athena’s grieving friends started writing tributes to her on the windows of her family’s home as a way to show they understood and appreciated her final words to the world. I’ll close with the line I began with, the one that to me, rings the most true. “Happiness depends upon ourselves. Maybe it’s not about the happy ending, maybe it’s about the story.”