Athena Orchard was a cheerful, pretty 12-year-old from Leicester who enjoyed sports, writing, and helping look after her younger siblings. But just before Christmas 2013, the the soon-to-be teenager collapsed in the kitchen. Doctors discovered she was suffering from a rare form of bone cancer.
She underwent a seven-hour operation to remove a tumor from her spine and then endured months of chemotherapy. Normally overflowing with energy, the treatment took its toll. “She was always positive, even when she was in hospital she would be looking after me, making sure I ate and telling me not to cry,” her mother Caroline said. “We knew the cancer was very aggressive… she fought it as long as she could but eventually she became too weak to get out of bed.”
Shortly after her 13th birthday, Athena died surrounded by her family.
Not long after her funeral, Athena’s father began the heartbreaking task of packing up her belongings. When he lifted a mirror away from the wall, he was surprised to see that Athena had written a message on the back. “I couldn’t believe it, I saw all this writing, it must have been about 3,000 words. It’s so touching. When I first saw it, it just blew me away,” Dean said.
He started reading her words, but had to stop after awhile, it was simply too much — it broke his heart.
Athena’s handwritten goodbye was full of wisdom and comfort for those she left behind. Here are some excerpts from her emotional valediction:
“Happiness depends upon ourselves. Maybe it’s not about the happy ending, maybe it’s about the story.
The purpose of life is a life of purpose. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.
Happiness is a direction not a destination. Thank you for existing. Be happy, be free, believe, forever young. You know my name, not my story.
You have heard what I’ve done, but not what I’ve been through. Love is like glass, looks so lovely but it’s easy to shatter.
Love is rare, life is strange, nothing lasts and people change. Every day is special, so make the most of it, you could get a life ending illness tomorrow so make the most of every day. Life is only bad if you make it bad.
If someone loves you, then they wouldn’t let you slip away no matter how hard the situation is. Remember that life is full of ups and downs.
Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about. I want to be that girl who makes the bad days better and the one that makes you say my life has changed since I met her!
Love is not about how much you say I love you – it’s about how much you can prove it’s true. Love is like the wind, you can feel it but you can’t see it. I’m waiting to fall in love with someone I can open my heart to.
Love is not about who you can see spending your future with, it’s about who you can’t see spending your life without… Life is a game for everyone but love is the prize. Only I can judge me.
Sometimes love hurts. Now I’m fighting myself. Baby I can feel your pain. Dreams are my reality. It hurts but it’s okay, I’m used to it.
Don’t be quick to judge me, you only see what I choose to show you… you don’t know the truth. I just want to have fun and be happy without being judged.
This is my life, not yours, don’t worry about what I do. People gonna hate you, rate you, break you, but how strong you stand, that’s what makes you… you!
There’s no need to cry because I know you’ll be by my side.”
No one knew at what point in her illness Athena had written her message. “She never mentioned it, but it’s the kind of thing she’d do. She was a very spiritual person, she’d go on about stuff that I could never understand — she was so clever,” her father recalled.
Athena left her family with something they can treasure as a memorial to her. “We’re keeping the mirror forever,” Caroline said. “Just reading her words felt like she was still here with us. She had such an incredible spirit.”
Despite her illness, Athena never lost her ability to see the positive. It’s hard to imagine that these wise words came from one so young, but although her years were few, Athena certainly absorbed some of life’s most important lessons — her words are something we can all benefit from.