Her mission was remission. But looking back, it is clear Afton Wallace’s mission encompassed so much more.
From her diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer complete with “impressive” malignant tumors, to the moment she slipped quietly away into eternity on May 24, Afton inspired thousands to live life with vibrancy, faith, generosity, and true grit, a collection of attributes known as #AftonStrong.
But in order to fully understand what it means to be #AftonStrong, you need to know who Afton was. A student in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Afton was the captain of her swim team, a homecoming queen, and a star student. She was a daughter to Robert and Sheri and a sister to Kaylynne, Abigail, Katie, and Scott. She was a best friend, an active member of the LDS Church, and a loyal BYU fan. She was a light to all who knew her.
When the cancer diagnosis came on May 22, 2014, that light could not be extinguished. For over a year, Afton fought with tenacity and a smile that were almost unbelievable. Along with her parents, she began sharing her journey on her Facebook page, which quickly drew an audience who were touched and inspired by her determination to live a full life.Ultimately, Afton would undergo 45 radiation treatments and 70 doses of chemotherapy.
The things shared were sometimes momentous, sometimes small. There was the day Afton received her acceptance letter to BYU. Sometimes she simply sang along to Taylor Swift on the way home from the hospital. There were the pictures of Afton after she received her endowments in the Baton Rouge Louisiana Temple, a step she decided to take when she learned the chemotherapy had stopped working.
Nothing much, however, could compare when Afton graduated with honors, exactly one year after her cancer diagnosis.
Of the moment, her father posted:
“Well, she made it. There were many times this past two weeks when it seemed doubtful, but what a wonderful evening. I think my favorite part was the standing ovation the entire audience gave Afton. This represents such a level of support that I truly do not understand. We have been simply overwhelmed by everyone’s response to Afton’s illness. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts! Special thanks to the Warren Central High School administration and staff. They have gone well above the call of duty to help this year.
On the bragging father side of things, Afton was ranked sixth out 280 graduates and received the STAR student award for having the highest ACT score. She has received a full tuition scholarship to attend BYU this fall semester as well as a few other small awards. I could not be more proud of her academic accomplishments. However, what warms my heart even more is watching her interact with people. I love to watch her eyes dance and her face light up when she greets someone. She has a way of making others feel important.
During the ceremony she said she didn’t feel much pain, which is remarkable considering her condition. Afterwards she has felt very tired with lots of pain. It is 2:39 am and she has finally fallen into a fitful sleep.
Just before the ceremony, Father Curley, the pastor of our local Catholic Church, came over and gave Afton a hug and wished her well. I was so grateful for his gesture of kindness. I feel the same way about the hundreds of people who have told us they are praying for Afton. We feel that love and support and it sustains us!”
Afton passed away two days later, but her influence lives on. Thousands are still posting, sharing, and remembering her life and legacy online. Afton’s family is also working to set up an endowed scholarship to honor her memory.
Her father told the Vicksburg Post, “Her biggest fear other than dying was that she wouldn’t be able to go to school. One of the times she talked to me when she was sick she told me ‘Daddy, I’m scared I’m not going to be able to go to BYU…Our medical expenses of course are going to stop. We should have enough funds to pay for whatever medical expenses and funeral expenses with insurance, but the real issue has nothing to do with our expenses — What I’m interested in is what’s the legacy of Afton.”
Afton’s funeral was held on May 30, with her graveside service held two days ago. Willing to share their goodbye to their daughter, the Wallaces continue to share their daughter with the world.
Because of that generosity, the world is a brighter, stronger place. Now, we all can be #AftonStrong.
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.