Cancer can be beautiful – A Charleston Story

By Mark A. Leon

By Mark A. Leon

This piece was written in 2012, just weeks after a diagnosis of stage 4 brain and spinal cancer:

There are a few truly dramatic moments in our lives. Those moments when every facet of your soul is ripped out of your body, stomped on and then left to die. It is those moments when your body and mind going into free fall and you lose all rational control. On Monday, I was overtaken by the news that a close friend had been diagnosed with cancerous tumors in her brain and spine that had progressed to stage four.

After experiencing some dizziness and double vision, she was taken to the emergency room and since then the last ten days have been an emotionally and physically draining period for Michelle, her family and friends.

This is something none of us ever wish to go through in our lives, but all to often we do. Personally, I have felt an emptiness in my stomach all week long, yet I cannot even come close to imagining the thoughts and feelings running through Michelle’s head. Even with every ounce of my being there for her, I don’t feel like it is enough.

Life is about trials and it is the ability to overcome that makes us stronger, but in times like this you even question that belief.

Thursday evening, I was asked to do a very important symbolic gesture knowing very well, this was the final act to realization of what the next six months to a year will be like during this fight. I was asked to shave Michelle’s hair off. I won’t lie, I hesitated. I hesitated and stalled for quite some time and she even gave me an out. I knew I had to do it. Not because she asked and I can’t say no, but because she was putting all her faith in me.

Bachelorette party at Torch

In the end, with all her long red hair on the ground, she was beautiful. It worked. She smiled and seeing her whole face, you could see the hope in her eyes. Was it sad? Yes. Was it hopeful? Yes. Was it a roller coaster of unadulterated emotion? Oh yes!

What is so remarkable about Michelle is that she still continues to think about everyone else around her. Each night this week she has sent me home to sleep seeing the sleepiness in my eyes and my constant yawning. She is also the mother to three beautiful dogs, all of which were rescue dogs. Her heart may actually be too large for her body. The thought of being cuddled on the couch with her dogs has gotten her through this week.

As we speak, doctors are meeting with her to discuss every possible option. Early indication is five days of radiation and chemo treatments for possibly six months to a year. It is going to be a difficult road filled with pain, sickness, crying and a whole lot of love.

I will be there for her as well as every life she has touched in the past.

It is rare in life that you meet someone that defines unconditional goodness. A person that makes you believe in a better tomorrow. Michelle is one of those people. She is pure and unconditional. Her selfless behavior and charitable personality is infectious. If anyone can beat this, she is my vote for the best option.


Michelle made Charleston her home after a long emotional journey to find her place.  From Ohio to Charleston, she made many stops, but in the end, it was Charleston that truly made her feel special.  She was a fighter working for the Berkeley County Court System, fighting injustice until this disease took control of her body.

Her battled ended less than six months after diagnosis.  I was privileged to spend most of her final days with her until she was rushed home to pass away four days later just miles from her birthplace surrounded by family and friends.  She often said she would return as a dragonfly and on the day of her funeral at her brother’s home, we sat on the patio and wouldn’t you know it, a dragonfly flew by.  We knew.

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