The story of Austin Fisher is making the rounds, and I’m determined to do my part to keep it going. It’s especially appropriate today of all days, as it’s my sweet mama’s birthday. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than wrapping a gift and making a coconut cream pie for her. Happy Birthday, Mom. I sure do miss you.
This boy, Austin Fisher, deserves a medal, a college scholarship, a witty & beautiful prom date, and a hot fudge sundae. Maybe more.
He certainly deserves to walk across the stage in Carrollton, Ohio, next month with the rest of his senior class and receive his hard-earned diploma.
Austin’s mama, Teri, has metastatic breast cancer, which she’s been fighting for 7 years. That’s almost half of Austin’s life. Her one goal in her cancer battle was to survive long enough to see her son graduate high school. That goal was nearly compromised by a stupid policy and a dogmatic bureaucracy. Carrollton High School principals told the varsity baseball player that he could neither walk at commencement nor attend the senior class trip nor go to the prom.
What’s up? Bad grades? Unruly behavior? Smoking in the boys’ room?
Nope. Austin wasn’t going to walk or go on the trip or go to prom because he had 16 unexcused absences from school. Before this school year, Austin had perfect attendance.
Why was he absent? Not because he was cutting class or ditching school. He was caring for his mom while she was being pummeled by breast cancer. Teri Fisher says that her son is “her hero, her rock” and that with no adult male in the household, the role of caregiver was valiantly taken on by Austin. He willingly sacrificed to care for her, saying that school took a backseat to doing the day-in-day-out, hard work of primary caregiver. “You never know how much time you have left and that was one of her big [goals]–to see me walk and get my diploma and go off to college,” Austin says. “I wouldn’t change it, everything I did. Family first.”
I’m blown away by the depth of character of this young man. What a stellar example of priorities, commitment, and loyalty. We could all take note.
Austin’s aunt wrote a letter to the local newspaper once the story broke, to shed a little more personal light on the Fishers’s situation:
“A single mom juggling medical bills with the usual expenses of living, fighting a foreclosure, working her job, traveling to Canton for chemotherapy — no easy task. Throughout all of this, Austin continued to attend school as he could while caring for her, working two jobs, and participating in varsity sports.”
When Austin learned in January that he would not be able to participate in the much-anticipated rites of seniors such as commencement and prom, he and his mom went straight to see Principal Dave Davis but was told that “rules are rules” and “it’s policy” to deny these things based on the number of unexcused absences.
Thanks to the power of the people and the sweeping reform accomplished by social media, Superintendent Palmer Fogler reversed the decision yesterday, and Austin will get to walk, and Teri will achieve her goal of seeing her boy graduate.
Hallelujah! Rock on, people!
The Facebook group “Let Fish Walk” played a part in the reversal, I would think. The group grew quickly, from a respectable 10,000 yesterday to some 32,000 members and counting today. A petition through change.org also helped, with some 100,000 signatures. FYI, the population of Carrollton is 3,211.
I’m thrilled for Teri and Austin. Kudos to the Carrollton school board for making the right decision, and to the world at large for being decent and giving a hoot about one family’s plight. Cancer sucks. It devastates families and wreaks untold havoc. But once in a while, something good and heartwarming comes from the vicious disease that steals so much from so many. Today that something is Austin Fisher and his mama Teri. As I remember my own sweet mama today, I’m crushed by her absence in my life and the fact that yet another birthday of hers comes and goes without her. She would have been 74 years old today. I wonder how much she would have changed had she been here the last 7 years: would she have finally stopped dying her hair blonde and let it go white, as she spoke of wanting to do? Would she be a little hunched-over and frail, or still the busybody, energetic dynamo we all knew and loved? One thing is for sure: she would be spoiling my children and fussing at me to leave them be, let them play, give them more treats. Another thing is for sure: the hole in my heart that will forever remain because of cancer. I do hope that Austin Fisher never has such a hole in his heart.
I wanted to post something about British Open champion Darren Clarke on Sunday, when he won the tournament, but have been consumed with tournaments and champions in a different sport, so here I am.
I’m not much for watching golf on TV. It’s slow and to me, boring. I consider it an activity, not a sport, and I say that knowing full well I’m torquing a lot of golf fans by doing so. I don’t quibble with the skill involved, but to me if you don’t get sweaty & out of breath doing it, it’s not a sport.
Anyhoo, back to Clarke.
Then Trevor told me that Clarke’s wife, Heather, had died from breast cancer. That got my attention. Heather Clarke died in 2006 at age 39 after a recurrence. Her boys were 8 and 5 years old when she died.
That is my biggest nightmare. And I imagine it’s the biggest nightmare of every mother of young kids who is diagnosed with this damned disease. Recurrence is enough of a nightmare, but dying from BC with young kids at home is even more terrifying. Being diagnosed with cancer at a young age, with young kids still to raise, is hard enough. Worrying about and fearing recurrence adds to the terror that comprises this disease. I don’t care that my odds of avoiding recurrence are good, or that I’m doing all the right things to ensure that this cancer does not return. I was doing all the right things before cancer became the pile of poo in my path, and it still infiltrated my life. So while the numbers and statistics are in my favor, the fear is always in my heart.
During her battles with BC, Darren said of his wife, “My wife is a battler. She fights it so hard and I have so much admiration for her.” He too is a battler, having played in the Davis Cup 6 weeks after Heather died, and winning all 3 of his matches.
At Heather’s funeral on August 17, 2006, the minister remembered Heather as “an unpretentious, lovely girl, who was full of character” and said “that day in March 1996 when you married her here in this church, Darren, you really won the greatest trophy of your life.” The reverend made everyone smile by recalling how she loved to shop while her husband played golf. My kind of girl.
After accepting the British Open trophy on Sunday, Darren Clarke said, “It’s been a long and bumpy road, I have had some good things happen to me and some bad things, but I’ve had so much support from an awful lot of people.” He credited Heather with watching him “from up above” and said, “In terms of what’s going through my heart there’s obviously somebody who is watching down from up above. I know she’d be very proud of me. She’d probably be saying ‘I told you so’. But I think she’d be more proud of my two boys. It’s been a long journey.”
He seems like a really cool guy. He likes to lift a pint or two, and he’s been known to enjoy a cigar after a round of golf. After winning on Sunday, he partied all night, and he started that party during the post-match press conference by drinking a pint of Guinness while being interviewed. I really like this guy. Being a good father is important to him (take a lesson, Tiger). In an interview with Golf Magazine, he was asked how long it took to return to normal after Heather died. His reply is so honest. Instead of platitudes and false courage, he says:
“Well, what’s normal? It’s still not normal. It can’t be normal when you haven’t got the mother of your kids and my wife at home. I was starting to get back to an even keel probably at the start of this year . It was a long time. There were some dark moments. God knows things have been difficult for me, but it has been even harder for the boys. It has been tough having to deal with things. And tough being thrown in to being 100 percent responsible for my two kids. I had to start making the decisions for everything for the boys. Making the day-to-day decisions for the boys has been a shock to the system. You don’t realize how much wives have got to do until you’ve got to do it yourself.”
When asked in the same interview if he felt angry about her death, he again answered honestly: “Probably. I’m sure anybody would. You know, Why Heather? Why? Why? Why? There are no answers to that.”
No, there are no answers to that.