Kendra McBain was a hero in the purest sense of the word

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We use the word "hero" far too casually.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/12/2009 (4725 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

We use the word "hero" far too casually.

We confuse heroism with fame; consider someone with natural sports ability to have earned the description.

Those people aren’t heroes.

ken gigliotti / Winnipeg free press Archives Kendra McBain: fundraising walk

Kendra McBain, she was a true hero.

The 18-year-old died Monday afternoon after a three-year fight with cancer. She leaves a grieving family, a tight-knit school community and the legacy of her efforts to help other teenagers battling cancer.

Let’s talk about who she was before her diagnosis.

Kendra was a high-achieving 15-year-old who got good marks at her high school, St. John’s-Ravenscourt. She rode horseback, swam and played on the school volleyball team.

She was a really nice kid.

Then Kendra was diagnosed with rabdomyosarcoma, a cancer rare enough that only 100 cases have been diagnosed in North America and New Zealand in the past six years. In the first year of her illness, she had 12 rounds of chemotherapy, major surgery and 20 sessions of radiation.

She lost the sense of immortality most teens don’t shed until they’re well into adulthood.

When we met, Kendra was 17, a beautiful girl who would not let her life be defined by cancer.

"I want to enjoy my life," she said. "I want to enjoy health and happiness."

"I’ve lost that kind of carefree attitude that most teenagers have where they don’t worry about anything. I’m very conscious that life and good health aren’t a given."

Her mother Tammy was blunt. Kendra had the kind of cancer that likes to come back. And so it did.

"It’s forced me to mature," she said. "It’s sort of hard going out with my friends, seeing them do typical teen things. I have to go to bed at nine."

She was determined to give back to CancerCare Manitoba, the place where she spent so much of her adolescence.

Kendra spent hours in the pediatric clinic, a brightly lit, Disney-filled room intended for little children cursed with illness. There was no place to be a teen, to escape the waiting room filled with anxious parents or the mixture of frightened, sick or rambunctious kids.

She wanted to come up with enough money to properly outfit a teen room.

On May 29, the first Kendra’s Walk for Kids was held. The attendance exceeded her dreams. They raised $130,000.

Unfortunately, by Thanksgiving, Kendra’s cancer was back with a vengeance.

There was a tumour in the muscle behind Kendra’s right eye. She now had three distinct cancer sites: a tumour in her bone marrow, a tumour on the left area of her lung and the tumour behind her eye.

"The past week has been filled with tears and anger," Tammy McBain said in an email in October.

"And while Kendra is prepared to make end-of-life decisions, she is also determined to continue to fight. Buying time is only a part of that. She is making decisions to carry on and live life."

When Kendra spoke, she said she was rolling with the punches.

"This wasn’t the greatest news but you have to deal with it," she said. "Whenever I get to make my wish, I choose happiness first and then health.

"It may be a short and happy life. I love my life. I always remember that."

Her walk raised enough money to refurbish the teens’ room and to help with some programming. She made a difference for other teens forced to face a diagnosis of cancer. She chose to take her tragedy and help other people.

When I remember Kendra, she’s a radiant bald girl in her school uniform. She’s laughing and she’s confident. In a fair world, her parents would have been allowed to see her grow up and do whatever she darn well wanted,

Instead, they’ve said goodbye to a girl who would not stay down for the count, who took pain and transformed it into a means of helping others.

While the comfort will be slight, they should also realize that Kendra McBain was a hero in the purest sense of the word.

Rest easy, Kendra.

lindor.reynolds @freepress.mb.ca

 

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