April 1st. Every year, this date stands out in my mind, and it’s not because of some trick or practical joke. April 1st, 2009 the world lost a bright soul; my sweet friend Milena won her battle with cancer. I think of Milena throughout the year at random times, and sometimes it makes me happy and sometimes it makes me sad.
I remember waking up that Wednesday morning and walking over to my friend Amanda’s dorm to put some final touches on our bible study plan for the night. We led a group of 5 girls every Wednesday night, and this night was to be no different-studying the Bible, giggling, junk food, and fellowship. We finished planning and I went on with my day. I remember I was having lunch with a friend when my phone rang. It was Amanda. I figured she was calling about bible study, and planned to call her back. But she kept calling. And as she kept calling, my frustration grew. I don’t remember a lot of that day, but I vividly remember the next words I heard as I answered the phone: “Brooke. I need to tell you something. (cue me expecting a lame April Fools prank. And how I wish it was all just a prank). Milena died. Her mom just called. She’s gone.” I’m assuming I hung up the phone. I’m assuming the rest of the people in the cafeteria kept eating and talking. I’m assuming the world kept spinning. But for me, in that moment, time stood still. This was no joke. Milena Alvarez died on April 1st 2009 after a long battle with cancer. Milena was one of the freshman girls in the bible study I led. The world lost an amazing, sweet, hilarious, super sassy, fighter that day.
This year, Milena would have been 26 this year. So to honor her, here are 26 lessons I’ve learned from Milena and other amazing cancer warriors I have met throughout the past few years.
1. Every day is a gift. The good and the bad days. They are all a gift.
2. No one’s life is perfect, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
3. You can’t save people, you can only love them.
4. Accept life’s challenges as they come. Because they will come.
5. Don’t spend too much time worrying about the future. We aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow.
6. “Go ahead and pee your pants a little bit. I won’t judge.”
7. It’s good to have friends who accept you for who you are.
8. Sympathy only gets you so far. Strength gets you further.
9. You don’t need hair to be beautiful. A bright smile is the most beautiful thing you can wear.
10. “If we all threw our problems into a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d quickly grab ours back”.
11. Sarcasm is an art form.
12. It’s okay not to be okay. Sometimes we need our friends and family. Sometimes they need us.
13. Everyone deals with life differently. There is no right or wrong way.
14. Everyone comes into your life for a reason. To teach you a lesson, to bring you a smile.
15. Live with great intention. Make every moment count.
16. Rest. There’s nothing wrong with intentionally setting aside time for yourself.
17. Every person has a story. And every story matters.
18. Never take yourself too seriously.
19. Life is not fair. That does not mean life is not good.
20. Community matters.
21. No matter how you feel, show up to life. Even if you show up in your pajamas. Participate.
22. Your story, your illness, your circumstances are valid and important. But they do not define you.
23. People who throw their head back as they laugh are some of the best people to be around.
24. Cream cheese goes with everything.
25. Sometimes making memories is more important than grades. Take breaks. Go to TCBY. It’s ok.
26. With the right friends, you can get through anything.
I will never forget Milena’s laugh, the way she would throw her head back and laugh loudly. I will never forget her sarcasm and great sense of humor. I will never forget our bowling trips and Bible studies. And I can only hope to handle myself with the same grace, strength, and class when faced with difficult situations. So Milena, Hey girl, heyyyy! It was truly an honor and blessing to know you and be a part of your life. Rest in peace, Milena. You are missed. Gone, but never forgotten.