This is a Disney World vacation planing web site. I have never written here about any subject that didn’t pertain to Disney. When you write about planning vacations to “The Happiest Place on Earth,” most everything you cover is indeed happy. Happy resorts, happy kids, happy family, and happy times. But this is not Earth changing stuff. There are moments when I have asked myself if planning the use of disposable income is what I really should do with my free time.
My friend George Throop from Enjoythewalk.org dedicated almost five years of his life to walking across America to spread the word about how to avoid cancer, like the cancer that took his own mother when she was just 24. I couldn’t bring myself to even tell him I wrote articles about Disney. It seemed to pale so hugely in comparison, with me pricing Disney souvenirs and George aiming to stop the spread of a deadly disease. My good friend Mike Ellis from My Dreams of Disney writes an article each week posting prayer requests, and none of his readers are asking to win the lottery to fund their next vacation.
The pain and suffering of many people is so great, it can sometimes cause you to put your vacation dreams and plans in perspective.
I’ve asked myself what is important.
My husband teaches high school band in the nearly coastal town of Foley, Alabama. He teaches hundreds of students each year in both marching and concert band, and through his 18 year career, we have gotten to know thousands of teens. We have not had a lot of students pass away, in fact, it’s comforting to know through the years, there has only been a small hand full of students we’ve lost. I say we because while I teach high school, I also teach band with him, sometimes after school but most notably during the 101 degree week known as “band camp.”
All my high school friends were in band, and I trotted off to college on a music scholarship. I met my husband, the love of my life, in college band, and my three children are in beginner and high school band. With my band director husband, I teach hundreds of students each year during band camp week, which this year is challenging 250 teens. We also work with a fantastic band staff and amazing parents. I have loved band since I was 13, and I still love working with band kids at 43. Band is a family that you make for yourself.
My husband received a text last weekend saying a former band student of ours was given just several days to live.
Her name is Meleney Harris.
We knew Meleney had been diagnosed with cancer, and we knew she had been up and down in terms of the medical treatment effectiveness throughout the last year. To hear that her life expectancy was just several more days was both startling and heart breaking. Meleney was one of those students that you just remembered instantly, even if she graduated several years ago. Meleney is one of our band family.
I remember Meleney the most from band camp, her unusual hair, her quirky t-shirts and crazy shoes, and her huge smile. She was not the type of kid to complain, and she always ran back to her spot. If someone was new, she was sure to show them the way. She was easy-going, helpful and cheerful. She was the kind of kid you would be proud to call your own, someone you could count on, a friend you would want to have. She was a leader you followed, and to catch her, you better run back to your spot.
My very favorite Meleney memory took place in 2009 on a band trip to Chicago. We went to see Blue Man Group, and just a sophomore, Meleney was chosen from the whole theater to go up on stage. If they had chosen me, I would have surely refused, too shy, too embarrass-able. Not Mel. In front of hundreds of mostly strangers, dressed in some sort of plastic protective covering, Meleney shared an intimate on-stage meal with the three blue guys, where they spewed crunchy cereal and sprayed her with some sort of cheese substance. She totally played along, and the crowd loved her.
She was the epitome of the word “band kid.” She was a Shining Star in the Foley High School Band.
In this photo, she is in the band room with her future fiancé, Daniel McWatters.
I have asked myself what is important.
I thought it was important to share Meleney’s story today.
Meleney Harris is a graduate of Foley High School, where she was a straight A student. She was planning to attend college to be an ultrasound technician. All this came to a complete stop when she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma.
Ewing’s sarcoma is a primary bone cancer that affects mainly children and adolescents. It’s one of a group of cancers known collectively as the Ewing sarcoma family of tumors — ESFT or sometimes just EFT. It’s the second most common bone cancer in children, but it’s also relatively uncommon. It accounts for only 1% of all childhood cancers. Although it can occur at any age, it very rarely occurs in adults over the age of 30.
As there are no known risk factors that can be changed and no screening test to effectively identify someone prone to develop this cancer, there is no way to prevent it. There are approximately 200 new cases of Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosed in the United States annually, and somehow, Shining Star Melenie Harris was one of those 200.
Meleney has spent seven months going through surgeries and chemotherapy. Her tumor was resistant to chemo, and now the tumor is pushing on her lungs, collapsing them, and putting pressure on her heart. There is nothing that can be done. Meleney Harris, Shining Star, is dying of cancer, quite probably within the week based on her doctor’s prognosis.
That makes you ask yourself what is important.
Meleney started dating her fiancé, Daniel McWatters, when she was in my husband’s band. We watched them flirt, hang out, date, fall in love, and graduate high school together. Even at marching contest, with other senior band members, they stood together.
I have asked myself what is important…
How tragic to see the woman you have loved since high school slip from your life while living with daily pain.
How crushing to see a family member suffer and then have to worry about how you will pay for the funeral.
How amazingly unfair to know you are dying and to worry about the people you leave behind.
Suzi Hall, Daniel’s mother, started a GoFundMe campaign to help defray the costs of Meleney’s funeral. Can you imagine planning your own funeral? Melenny has done just that.
Suzi said, “Meleney told Daniel and I what she wanted, the casket – brown and silver – with roses on her casket. She wants to be buried in her prom dress she wore to her and Daniel’s prom. She wants Daniel to wear the same color tux he wore that special night. As Daniel’s mother, the hurt in my heart with knowing we are losing her is unbearable. She sure is a sweet and wonderful girl, and she’s had a hard life.”
I think most of us, at one high school time or another, thought we would go on to marry our high school sweetie, but surely none of us ever envisioned planning a funeral together and then worrying about how to pay for it.
In this photo, Meleney and Daniel are headed to prom, not knowing this is the dress she will ask to be buried in barely two years later.
Meleney Harris is just 20-years-old, and she has no life or burial insurance. This has left her fiancé and her parents to do what they can with the funeral expenses, all the while dealing with her medical expenses and their own finances. Suzi said, “When you walk into a room where she and Daniel where standing, you could feel the love that just lit up the room. I ask of you all to help give Meleney the burial she wants. She so deserves it. Thank y’all.”
I can’t imagine seeing my child suffer with cancer.
I can’t imagine having the strength to plan my own funeral.
I can’t imagine knowing I was losing someone I loved with all my heart, and then had to worry with how I would pay for their funeral.
I ask myself what is important.
Today my family made a donation to the funeral fund for our former high school student who was a Foley Band Shining Star as she loses her battle with cancer. Most of you will not know her, which is unfortunate. She is indeed a Shining Star, both on and off the marching field, in the classroom, around the community, and in our Foley Band family. If you had met her, she would have shaken your hand, said something funny, and her smile would have set you at ease. That’s just how she is.
Today, sharing Meleney Harris’ fight with cancer seemed more important than talking about Disney World.
This year about 564,800 Americans are expected to die of cancer—more than 1,500 people a day. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., exceeded only by heart disease. One of every four deaths in the U.S. is from cancer. Since 1990, there have been approximately 5 million cancer deaths.
A lot of Shining Stars have been lost, and today it seemed important to focus on just one.
I have wiped away a lot of tears in locating these photos and reading the words of encouragement from her high school friends and family posted on a Facebook group called Meleney’s Angels. If Meleney’s story has touched your heart, it was important to me to ask that you consider making a donation toward her funeral expenses.
It’s about time her family got a break.
This article was written on July 3o, and Meleney passed away on August 13th after a long battle with her illness. I wanted to thank everyone who has donated money for her funeral. As of August 13th, they are still raising funds to bury a beautiful shining star.
Peace, love, and light to Melanie Harris, her fiancé Daniel McWatters, their families and close friends, and all the kids in the Foley Band who loved her.
Go hug someone, and tell them how much they mean to you, because life is short and certainly not always fair.
Thanks for reading and for thinking about Meleney. Thank you again for your donations, and keep them in your prayers.