Afton Wallace’s legacy lives on

Published 9:56 am Tuesday, May 24, 2016

One year ago today, Afton Wallace passed away after a yearlong battle with stage IV Ewing’s sarcoma, a very rare, aggressive childhood bone cancer.

Afton held many titles: Homecoming Queen, Miss Warren Central, Class Favorite, STAR Student, captain of the swim team, but now, she’s an angel.

I was privileged and honored to get to know Afton during her fight, and I only wish I could have met her sooner. She left a profound impact on my life, as well as the lives of many others, and though she is no longer here with us on Earth, her legacy is alive and well.

On this, the anniversary of her death, I want to share the column I wrote after meeting Afton Wallace last year:

Upon moving to Vicksburg in January, I soon had two questions: who is Afton Wallace and why is #AftonStrong everywhere?

From T-shirts to Facebook profile pictures to signs around town, everywhere I looked I was seeing #AftonStrong.

It didn’t take long before I heard Afton’s story and understood what it meant to be #AftonStrong.

Afton, a senior at Warren Central High School, was diagnosed with an “impressive” malignant tumor May 22, 2014, and #AftonStrong is about the fight for her life.

I was immediately impressed and inspired by the overwhelming community support backing Afton. The Wallace family laughed when I referred to it as the Afton movement.

I’m not sure if that’s more of a testament to Vicksburg or Afton. I’ve never seen anything like it in any of the other cities I’ve lived in, but then again I’ve never met an individual like Afton.

After months of writing about Afton, meeting her just felt right. I mentioned to the Wallace family that I felt like my beat had grown from school and youth to school, youth and Afton because it seems like I’m writing about a community group supporting her nearly every week.

When I was assigned a Sunday feature story to tell Afton’s story I was equal parts humbled and horrified. It was an honor to finally meet Afton, but at the same time I knew such a major, impactful story would be daunting.

Meeting Afton and her parents, Rob and Sheri, wiped out any fear I had.

Sheri brought out a tray filled with Shipley’s donuts, pumpkin bread and Norwegian cookies (I highly recommend trying these if you haven’t), and they were incredibly welcoming and open during the entire three hours I was there.

If you’ve met Afton, you’ll understand what I mean when I say she’s unlike anyone I’ve ever met. Three things about her stood out to me: she’s got a lot of fight, a lot of positivity and a whole lot of emotional maturity.

Fight: since Afton was diagnosed, she has spent 120 days in the hospital, undergone 45 radiation treatments and received 70 doses of chemotherapy.

That makes me sick just hearing about it, but then Sheri told me when Afton was in the hospital, partially paralyzed, she used her walker to do dips.

Supporting Afton is akin to supporting the underdog sports team that won’t give up: the odds have been stacked against her, but she refuses to give up.

Positivity: I’m sorry to say this about myself, but I think if I were battling stage IV cancer, I wouldn’t be smiling very much.

Afton, on the other hand, is always smiling. Even the nurses have said there’s only one Afton, and they have recruited her to speak to other cancer patients to encourage them.

Hearing something like that will make you reconsider how trivial your own problems are.

Maturity: Afton is a 17-year-old high school girl, and let’s face it, that’s not the first demographic that comes to mind when you think about maturity.

Afton on the other hand is more mature than most adults I’ve come in contact with.

She has embraced the bald is beautiful campaign while being a comforting shoulder for her friends who complain about bad hair days.

Afton told me it’s all about putting things into perspective and understanding people can only understand what they’ve been through.

After meeting Afton, it’s much easier to understand what #AftonStrong is all about, and it’s definitely something I can get behind.

And Afton, if you’re reading this, just keep swimming.

 

 

Austin Vining is a staff writer for The Vicksburg Post. Email comments to austin.vining@vicksburgpost.com.