If Death Is Certain, How Do You Live?

"It was a huge hit," Linda said. "It was devastating. We sat in a room with the oncologist and my dad asked how long William had to live. What are we looking at? She said 'I don't put a timeline on people's lives. Only God knows.'

And then the "emotional roller coaster" the family was riding, as Linda put it, soared up. A new treatment with chemotherapy from Duke University proved positive and the cancer disappeared from the spinal fluid. But a short time later, it was back.

"He had been doing better, and we thought we really did believe in miracles," before the cancer returned, Linda said. "Do you know how many times we heard that he was going to die and he lived. How many times we heard that the cancer was terrible and it went away. How many times we heard that he was doing great and he was really doing terrible.

"It was a roller coaster of emotions: miracle, devastation, miracle, devastation."

Living With Hope Until the End

With one semester to go before graduation, Will returned home to Tucson. He had a seizure and was admitted to a local hospital.

"The doctor came to us and said he was not going to make it through the night," Linda said. "It's time to say goodbye. Everybody was devastated, shocked. We asked, 'Isn't there anything we can do?' He said, 'No. There's nothing you can do. Take him to hospice and let him die.'

"He ended up living for five more months," Linda said. "Those were the best five months that we ever had."

Radiation treatment continued, because Will thought discontinuing it would be a sign of giving up.

"Two weeks before he died I threw a giant party in the house," Linda said. "He had cake, ice cream, and we did everything we could to just celebrate. His room was filled with people, 10 to 20 people. We bought a puppy. We've never had a pet in our lives, but we bought a puppy."

When death finally came, Will was surround by friends and family.

Fighting to Surive Kept Him Alive

"It was a beautiful passing," his sister said, because he lived with hope until the end.

"Hope is a funny thing," Linda said. "It stems from despair."

The family insists Will never lost hope, and it was the fight to survive that kept him alive for at least a few more months. He wrote that he was not a religious man, but the fight itself became his religion.

"Brain cancer has taught me a great deal about life," he wrote in his essay. "It has been a blessing in disguise. I am just a 20-year-old college student, but I feel like I have the wisdom of an 80-year-old grandfather. It was unfortunate that to learn how to live, I had to learn how to die."

Will's essay reflects a desire to leave something behind that would make this a better world. He didn't have much time to do that. But he left a mark. Two of his classmates have gone on to medical school.

His girlfriend, who spent every day and every night by his side when he was in the hospital, is studying to be a nurse.

Maybe the fight isn't over yet.

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