One day someone asked me if I was interested in sponsoring a candle for the upcoming Relay for Life event in honor or memory of someone with cancer. Afraid to answer, I simply agreed and took the paperwork home. I asked myself, “Do I know anyone with cancer?” Nobody in my family had cancer, none of my friends had cancer, none of my friends’ family members had cancer. I didn’t know anyone with cancer. But they made it seem like I should?
I went on to participate in the Relay for Life event where my view of life quickly changed. My math teacher, Mrs. Emery, was called on stage to give a speech. I wasn’t sure why they chose her to speak, but I was very interested to see what she had to say. That was, until I heard what she said. Mrs. Emery announced she had cancer. At that very point in time, cancer became real to me. My eyes grew warm with emotion as I stood in the darkness of night surrounded by strangers who have all been united through cancer. My emotions were held on high as groups of survivors walked their victory lap around the track illuminated by hundreds of candles, each representing someone’s life affected by cancer. The word “HOPE” lit up by luminaries stood out against the night sky. Tears rolled down my face as the crowds of bystanders and I cheered on the survivors, a moment I will never forget.
Mrs. Emery was now the first person I knew with cancer, and this would remain the case for several years until I met Kristen Milligan and Inheritance of Hope. It was Kristen’s joyful personality that motivated me to start volunteering for IOH. Who wouldn’t want to support such an incredible woman and amazing cause? Now, five retreats and one marathon later, I can't help but continue to serve these families and be astonished by the impacts IOH has on everyone involved with their organization.
With Kristen's passing on October 26, 2012, these retreats have so much more meaning to me and all of the volunteers. While her death was hard, these retreats have prepared me to cope even as a volunteer. I am beyond grateful and honored to have the opportunity to be a part of her legacy and continue to serve these families. Ever since I met Kristen, she has inspired me and still does…
I wanted to share something I wrote shortly after Kristen passed:
I'll never forget the story about the "dash" from an inspirational e-mail my mom sent a while back that said, "When you die, there’s going to be a tombstone. It’s going to have your name, it’s going to have the year you were born, and it’s going to have the day you died. In between, there’s going to be a dash. And that dash is going to represent everything that you did in your life; good and bad. It’s how you’re remembered. What do you want your dash to represent?"
As I am grieving the loss of Kristen Grady Milligan to the terminal diagnosis of Fibrolamellar Carcinoma I cannot help but to be in awe of how she will be remembered...her "dash".
Kristen was such an inspiration and role model to me and will continue to be even though she is no longer here with us on earth.
Following a retreat in February of this year, one in which neither Kristen nor Deric were able to attend, the reality of Kristen's illness really set in. It was a retreat I will never forget, but one that I know God had planned. We prayed every waking hour for us to be able to pull off this retreat without the two main players. And boy did God answer those prayers and them some! The IOH team pulled through stronger than ever to prove to Kristen that her legacy will still live on even when she is gone. God worked miracles like I've never seen at that retreat and gave Kristen a renewed faith.
I have never met a woman that was so kind, so passionate, so humble, so determined, so inspirational, so Godly as Kristen. I never once caught her without a smile on her face even when I knew she was in so much pain. I never once felt like I wasn't the most important person in the room when I was talking to her. I never once doubted her faith in the Lord and her will to live. What an absolutely amazing "dash" Kristen has. Thousands of lives have been changed forever (including mine) because Kristen chose to see her situation as a blessing and not a curse.
Kristen, I miss you dearly, but I'm at peace knowing you have been reunited with your heavenly and earthly father, living a life free of pain.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1: 9
Rest In Peace Kristen
I strive every day to be more Christ-like, but in my mind I often find myself trying to be more Kristen-like because she was such a pure follower of Christ. Kristen was and will continue to be a role-model to me. Shortly after the retreat I mentioned above, I wrote a letter to Kristen for fear I might not have time to tell her how she has impacted my life. She later responded with her own letter and I wanted to end this blog with a quote from her:
“God has taught me over these past years how truly weak I am without Him, but how much strength and peace He gives me when I turn to Him. I would gladly take the joy He has showed me during the past 8 years over 90 years of what I felt before the cancer. I was happy then, but it was so very mundane compared to the joy that I believe we can only find in God.”
- Blog post written by Lara Miller