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February brings World Cancer Day -- and memories

Getty Images / NurPhoto / Narayan Maharjan

Some obituaries tell brave and beautiful stories of the many ways people live with cancer.

World Cancer Day is February 4. Cancer takes more than half a million lives every year, and it affects millions more. 

Many of the people who lost their lives to cancer in the past year are remembered with Legacy obituaries. And some of those obituaries tell brave and beautiful stories of the many ways people live with cancer. Here are a few of our favorites. 

Take that, cancer 

Tom Hansen’s family wrote an incredible tribute to the way their loved one stayed positive in the face of a dreaded disease: 

On Sunday, November 17th, Tom Hansen won his fight with cancer. Since this is an obituary, that may sound odd. But it's true. He won because cancer has no one crying for it. No one laughing at its stories. No one who cares enough to drop off lasagna. To help do laundry. Or to plan a celebration honoring its life. If cancer had caller ID, no one would answer. Why? Cancer tried to extinguish Tom's light, yet it did just the opposite, it made it even brighter. Take that Cancer. Tom won because he not only showed us how to live, he made us feel alive. 

Tom established a scholarship fund that he hoped anyone would donate to if they wanted to remember his life: 

And because of his belief in the power of the written word, in lieu of flowers, his hope was that you would consider donating to the Tom Hansen Scholarship Fund for Influential Writing. Writing that could take the form of the great American novel, justice-seeking journalism or the writing of grants for cancer research and other worthy causes. For more information about Tom's scholarship fund, please go or checks may be mailed to: KU Endowment P.O. Box 928, Lawrence, KS 66044-0928. Read more

Fighting cancer with creativity 

Judith Kolowicz lived with ovarian cancer for more than six years, and she found ways to keep her spirits up from day one: 

As the effects of chemotherapy took their toll, Judy's creativity only increased. When she had to give up stitching her famous needlepoint mini-stockings for all of the children at Christmas, she took up knitting scarves for them. When she could no longer knit, she acquired a variety of adult coloring books and gel pens. When life turned weighty and sad, she joined an improv group at Gilda's Club and provided comedic relief every Wednesday at dinner, finally persuading the rest of the family to go with her. When she could no longer concentrate to read whole books, she ordered more magazines and added audiobooks to her iPad. When every other hobby turned nearly impossible, she returned to scoring all of the Minnesota Twins baseball games, just as she did Boston Red Sox games when she was a child. 

Judith’s family requested that friends remember her with a donation to the Gilda’s Club that helped sustain her sense of humor: Gilda's Club of the Twin Cities (10560 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka, MN 55305). Read more

Spreading the word about a silent killer 

MaryLynn Hardesty wrote her own obituary, and she used the opportunity to urge women not to ignore the early warning signs of a cancer that often isn’t noticed until it’s too late: 

I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in December 2014. True to its name, the "silent killer", I had no symptoms. It is important to me that you know the early warning signs and share them with everyone you know; bloating, pelvic/abdominal pain or cramping, feeling full, need to urinate more frequently, pressure in the lower back or pelvis. Please know that your annual exam does not include a diagnostic for ovarian cancer; a pap smear is not for ovarian cancer. Listen to your body; if you have any of these or any other unexplainable symptoms, insist your doctor listen to you. I am not defined by cancer and I did not lose this battle. Cancer never stood a chance against me. 

MaryLynn wanted donations in her memory to be made to an organization that helps women like her: 

In lieu of flowers, please donate generously to Casting for Hope, a non-profit providing loving and generous services to women affected by gynecological cancers. Donations may be mailed to Casting for Hope, P.O. Box 8118, Asheville, NC 28814 or donate online at www.castingforhope.orgRead more


Tonya Ameryllis Carroll was an athlete and a pharmacist:

Tonya graduated from Flint Northern High School in 1980 where she was the first state champion hurdler in the school's history.  Her athletic accomplishments led to a full track and field scholarship at the University of Kentucky.  A gifted athlete, she was honored as a two-time All-American and awarded Southeast Conference Woman of the Year in 1984.  Also, in 1984, Tonya competed in the Olympic trials held in Los Angeles, California where she finished in the top six for hurdles. 

Tonya was a Pharmacist for over 30 years and previously owned the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy formally located on West Boulevard in Charlotte, NC. Her lifelong dream was to own a pharmacy in an underserved area to assist the minority community. 

Her family remembered her as a prayer warrior and mounted a fundraiser for Susan G. Komen in her memory:

In addition, the family has established a Susan G. Komen fundraiser in Tonya's honor to continue her legacy to fight breast cancer.  Read more

Support for herself and others 

Margaret Miles McInnis was inspired by a fellow cancer survivor to find ways to support others like her: 

After attending a conference entitled "When God and Cancer Meet" led by author, cancer survivor and patient advocate Lynn Eib, Margaret had a desire to provide hope and inspiration to others facing cancer. She was instrumental in bringing Lynn to Monroe for a seminar on living with cancer and to help organize a support group to provide information, encouragement and support to cancer patients and caregivers in Monroe and the surrounding area. In 2016, the Northeast Louisiana Cancer Prayer Support Group was formed and currently has over 30 members. 

Among the suggested charities for memorial donations in Margaret’s name are the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance. Read more

Gratitude and wonder 

Ronald Manns took a notable approach to living with cancer: 

He had lived with cancer for five and half years but shunned battle metaphors in favor of living with gratitude and wonder every day

And humor was a crucial part of his cancer journey: 

Ron will be remembered by friends and family for his witty sense of humor and affinity for puns. As his health deteriorated and he was no longer able to do the physical things he enjoyed, he made it his purpose to find at least one person every day to make laugh, whether his health care professionals or strangers he encountered on the street. 

Ron’s family requested memorial donations in his memory to Prostate Cancer Foundation or Zero Prostate Cancer. Read more

Technically, it was a tie 

Pamela Anderson Wagner lived with ovarian cancer for more than eight years, but it didn’t diminish her spirit: 

For Pam, the ability to move and quality of life were one and the same. However, being bedridden for the last 34 days of her life, she adjusted her baseline in that regard. She was always able to find joy in life, even in the most difficult circumstances. Through 8 years of surgeries, chemotherapy and clinical trials, she never once complained. Not once. Instead, she did everything to lessen the burden on her family and friends. That's just who she was right down to the end. 

Pam learned everything she could to help herself and others: 

One way that Pam fought this hideous disease was to learn everything she could about it. She researched tirelessly, asked questions and compiled large notebooks to chronicle her journey for the purpose of possibly helping others who might find themselves in a similar position. She literally did everything humanly possible in terms of diet, exercise and lifestyle to knock back the cancer's relentless assault on her body. To plagiarize from another obituary, Pam's cancer didn't win the fight - the cancer died when Pam died, so technically it was a tie. 

Pam’s family suggested donations in her memory to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (earmarked for ovarian cancer research). Read more