‘True hero’ ends battle

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette 9 year old Callie Caanaugh of Loyalsock Township and Jennifer Gray of Williamsport are being honored for their selfless acts this year. Callie, who has been batteling Rhabdomyosarcoma, a childhood cancer for two years but has spent her time raising money for famililies

No matter how much pain she endured, no matter how difficult times seemed, Callie Cavanaugh never changed.

Cancer is an awful, insidious disease, but it met its match when it picked a fight against Callie. Cancer never defeated her either. Callie would not let it. This powerful 9-year-old warrior laughed in its face and not only became a community inspiration, but a worldwide hero who touched the lives of even those overseas, including British actress Emma Watson.

Callie passed away Saturday following a two-year cancer battle. We lost an amazing person. Heaven gained an angel.

My first instinct was to write about how terrible a loss this is. But Callie would not want that. She never liked to dwell on the negatives. She was always upbeat.

Callie was a ray of sunshine that no clouds could ever dull. And I know that somewhere she is still guiding her family, her loved ones, her friends. She is looking after them in their time of need and lending support.

When you feel that angel on your shoulder, understand that it is Callie touching you.

That is who Callie was; that is who she will forever be. She was an angel while we were blessed to share this world with her and the only difference now is she has her wings.

Callie was diagnosed with pediatric cancer in December of 2016. She traveled a long, bumpy and arduous road since then, but never lost what made her so wonderful. It was never about Callie in her eyes. It was about everyone else. How were they doing? How could she help? What could she do?

One story always sticks out for me. After receiving her first chemo session, Callie drew her father, Kevin, a card with a heart inside thanking him for driving her. It was a little thing but it says so much. Doctors, relatives, teachers, friends and so many others could share countless similar stories. Whether it was organizing dance parties, creating motivational drawings or just lending an ear, Callie was a friend to all.

Cancer is tough for anyone to encounter, let alone a girl who was 8 when diagnosed.

She had every reason to feel down, ask why or lash out. Callie never did. Instead, she went to work. Showing a resiliency and a spirit that few possess, Callie started raising money and awareness.

Since her diagnosis, Callie and her amazing family raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. She donated money, time, clothes, toys and anything of which she could think.

Callie designed her own “CallieStrong shirts,” which consistently generated funds. She became a book fairy, she participated in the Great Cycle Challenge, she participated in photo shoots when just walking proved difficult. As long as it helped the cause, Callie would do anything. She could not be stopped.

Nothing changes now. Callie taught us all so many powerful lessons. She made the community and the world a better place. Callie gave us a special gift. Beyond all the money she raised and all the gifts she gave to children battling the same illness, it was something intangible. Simply put, Callie made everyone want to be a better person. And if we can continue learning from Callie, if we keep remembering her message than what a world we can create.

Look what Callie did for this community. She brought us all closer together. Put her in a room with rival athletes, rival political parties, long-time enemies and watch her melt the tension. Watch them leave that room smiling together.

The love showered upon Callie was not out of pity. It was pure and it was genuine. One does not reach so far and elicit such positive emotions without reaching others’ hearts. Callie went straight to our hearts and there she will forever stay.

For a short time, it appeared Callie would be staying here for a long time. By the fall of 2017, Callie seemed to be in remission, but the cancer came back with a vengeance around Christmas that year.

Within the next few months, some doctors were saying it might just be time to make Callie comfortable. Again, though, she rallied. More chemo followed and it was working for a while, but the winter months turned cruel again.

These last couple months were particularly harsh, but Callie remained strong, caring and thoughtful. She fought with not only valor, but with grace. I am a sportswriter and I often write about teams and athletes who show tremendous character and toughness. That is whether they make a big comeback or achieve something that seems beyond their reach.

But those are just games. This is real life. And there is no doubt in my mind that Callie is the toughest person I have ever known.

I only met Callie one time but I will remember her forever.

We should remember her lessons always as well. When you feel anger against someone, think of Callie and know that she never did. When you feel sorry for yourself, think of Callie and know she never did. When you feel selfishness taking over, think of Callie and know she never was.

I deal with words for a living, but I cannot find enough or the right ones to convey everything that made Callie special.

Callie might be gone, but her legacy will always endure.

She is a true hero. And Callie Cavanaugh will forever remain our hero.

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