A Million Smiles Away

Written by Victoria Mengel of Ivyland, “A Million Smiles Away” was the third-place winner in our 2014 Essay Contest’s high school division. 

Have you ever met a person that could light up the whole room with one flash of their smile? How about a person that could get out of any situation with just showing those pearly whites? Their smile makes them who they are. They are known as the person with the “sparkling smile”. Everything they carry themselves on revolves around that dazzling curve of the lips in an upward motion. Imagine their overwhelming personality and their sense of optimism about life; the glass is always filled at whatever level it’s at. Now imagine that person walks into your life one day and tells you that they were diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia and results don’t look promising. The world comes crashing down and everything you ever thought was good in the universe was suddenly bad and rotten.

She was supposed to be here. She was supposed to live because she had me convinced that life for her wasn’t over. She wanted to study at St. Joe’s University and become a teacher or a nurse but she couldn’t decide because they both did such good for the world. We had plans to live the rest of our lives together. She was supposed to be the godmother to my first born child because she couldn’t have her own kids. I had doubts, many of them, but I never showed her how scared I was. She was the strongest person I have ever encountered in my life and ever will encounter. When her relapse hit her harder then expected, the doctors made sure to tell us that this would be hard to fix a second time. “Tell me what I have to do to get better and I’ll do it,” are the words that play over and over in my mind from that day. She went from CHOP, to St. Judes in Tennessee, to John Hopkins, to Seattle in Washington. She swore that it wasn’t over and every time she had promising results to undergo her transplant, something happened that prevented the only way she would beat the disease a second time. After a two and a half year struggle with Leukemia, Raechel lost her battle in January 2014.

I lost more than my best friend that day, I lost a life long friend and a person that became a sister to me through the years. I lost a piece of me with her and it’s difficult trying to find that piece back. She let me into her life with open arms and never once showed me any resentment or cruelty. The days following her death were long and dark. My family didn’t know Raechel as well as I did so I was the only one grieving and sulking. I was the only friend who stuck by her side through thick and thin so when death did come about, I was completely alone. I was mad at her for leaving me alone and giving me no one to talk to or grieve with. I was mad at myself for being mad at her. I was sad and confused and angry. How could such an awful disease take such a wonderful soul? It was hard, a lot harder than I expected. I knew one day this time would come where she wouldn’t answer my calls and I would have to say goodbye but I didn’t think it would come so soon. I didn’t think my days with her were numbered. I expected years left with her and in return I was handed seconds.

Raechel always inspired me to go above and beyond the necessary deeds of life. She taught me to open the world with a smile and to never give up. She had every reason to be hostile and bitter but she became a better person through her disease. She showed us all how to live and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. She made me the person I am today and I have my entire self to thank her for that. I have learned that cancer never wins. People die from cancer every day but they died in love because the only true winner of cancer is love. That’s what Raechel was, her entire self was pure love. In return for the love she showed me, I started a fundraiser that would benefit her family. Finishing the first round of the fundraiser a couple weeks ago, the total came out to a couple thousand dollars raised for her family.

Life without Raechel is hard and will continue to be hard but the constant support from her family and friends that knew her as well as I did helps immensely. She wouldn’t want people crying for her but she was so easy to fall in love with that it would be hard not to cry about her. There was no reason to not like her; from her corny sense of humor to her passionate heart that never ceased to let you know how much she loved you. Through these past couple of months without her, her family and I have been trying to establish a place in our hearts that will fill the hole that was taken with her death. In attempts to do this, our endless fundraising of selling T-shirts and accepting donations, to car washes and a food train for the family, pieces are starting to come together in a way that never could with going through everyday life.

Raechel died on January 19, 2014 but she still continues to live. Throughout her days spent at CHOP, she was known as the girl with the beautiful smile and best pajamas. Everything was fuzzy and fun in her room. In regards to this, her family has put together a plan to start a foundation that would be called Raechel’s Smile. With this, scholarships will be awarded to high school seniors and fuzzy pajamas will be donated to the foundation on behalf of children in CHOP. Once a year these pajamas will be given to the kids in efforts to keep Raechel here in everyone’s hearts. The foundation also wants to focus on the little things that make a huge difference to the families of the children fighting a disease, such as parking money or easy meals to go on the road.

Although Raechel never got to be a traditional teacher that she wanted to be, she taught everyone in her life how to be magnificent people. No one in her life was ordinary because she would change their lives to be above average. She taught me how to accept change and that love never ends. Death wasn’t scary to her and she knew she would never have to be afraid that she would be forgotten after she died. I have to thank her for everything I am now. Cancer affected my life in a way that nothing else could have. Right now it hurts to think of my best friend being dead, but I know in the future that it will be a blessing and provided a way for a lesson to be learned.

Right now, Raechel is a million smiles away, and she has been since the day she left for Seattle for treatments. Between those millions of smiles are one thing that they all have in common, I see Raechel’s in every single one of them. I never experienced cancer in my life or the lives of loved one until Raechel stepped into my life. I was scared, I didn’t want to become close with someone that would bring me heartbreak if the day did come that she died. Throughout all these doubts, I listened to my heart and not my head, I fell in love with Raechel’s personality, optimism, and brilliant smile. I ignored all the warnings I gave myself and became the best friend that called her every day just to chat, that never let a moment pass by without telling her how much I loved her, and to continue to encourage her to be strong throughout her battle. Raechel’s life was short, but lives aren’t measured in the quantity we live but the quality of it. In Raechel’s nineteen short years, she outlived many ordinary lives that were four times longer.

If cancer taught me anything, it’s that in those short two and a half years, I never learned how to love someone so deeply and passionately that I have learned to love Raechel. She taught me how to be patient and look at life as a blessing. Now she’s a million smiles away in heaven with all the other smiles surrounding her.