What Makes a Hero?

September 11, 2008
By Evie Clapp Clapp, Westfield, IN

What causes a person to be known as a hero to others? Is it the fact that their strength rivals that of a life-long body builder without any training? Or is it because their courage takes them across the world, straight into the front lines? Both of these examples apply to a hero we have been introduced to lately, Odysseus. However, these feats are accomplished in a world of make believe. Not every person can be as strong as this hero. But, we can all be courageous in our own way. We cannot face physical monsters; such as Scylla or the sirens. Yet, one can face a medical monster. The amount of courage they posses may help differentiate death and life. This very reason is why my hero is Lily Mathews.
Four years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her reaction was one that most of us would have in such a case; fear, denial, and sadness. “I could have sworn my heart stopped,” she said when the church heard the news. “What will happen to my kids?” Her thought of how others would deal with this news over her own daily life is a rippled reflection of Odysseus’ worry for his crew. She also refused to give up, taking up her sword for the battle: the prize was her life.
Lily had to undergo surgery to remove the tumor before she was started on chemotherapy. She took the news well; it meant that she still had the chance to live a normal life again. Lily displayed courage on that operating board, rivaling that of Odysseus the brave. After she came out of surgery, the doctors worried that she might not make it past the end of the week. When my parents came to visit, she smiled and told them, “Don’t worry about me. Tell the church that, as well.” In the end, she pulled through. She could even go home sooner, her first chemotherapy session scheduled.
Once she returned home, her life was completely thrown off balance. Lily had to go into the hospital on Mondays for her treatments. She generally slept the rest of the day. Her strict schedule for cleaning, playing with her daughter, helping her son with homework, and even her social time had to be completely changed. “I am just so tired now,” she admitted when I was sent to deliver tomatoes to her house. Her adjustment takes mental and spiritual strength—as strong, if not stronger, than Odysseus. The cancer went away after a year, and Lily’s life returned to normal.
Life spun out of control once more for Lily this past year. Her cancer was back, and with a vengeance. Instead of reappearing in her breasts, it sprung back to life in her lungs. The doctors discovered it too late for surgery. She now has to receive chemotherapy for the rest of her life. Her body reacted badly to the treatment the first time, and many of her friends among the church worried that the reaction to it would be the same. Yet, she pushed on with faith at her side, much like Odysseus during the battle with the suitors.
Lily’s body reacted well to the therapy, and she continues her life as normal. “The only reason I am different from any other stay-at-home mom is because I wear a wig,” she laughed when I asked her how she was getting along. She plans to live a long life, and Lily swears her cause of death would not be from the cancer. “I will die a happy, little old lady in my 100s.” She plans to take up a sword in one hand and a bible in the other—fighting against the disease using courage and faith as her weapons. This is what sets her apart from other heroes: she is neither the strongest nor the bravest, but she refuses to give up until the day she dies. That is why she is my hero, and is inspiration to anyone who hears her story.

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