How do I possibly begin to write the story of my son's life? A life cruelly cut short by a cancer called Ewing sarcoma. How can I express what an incredibly brave and special person he was, how deeply he was loved by his friends and family, and how many lives he touched in such a short time?
Reid was only 19 years old when the monster called Ewing sarcoma finally claimed him. The last three years of his life were filled with pain and the struggle to survive the cancer that ravaged his young body. Reid was not ready to die. He had yet to pass his pilot's exams and fulfill his dream of joining the Air Force. There were cars still to drive, trains to ride, and planes to fly. Exotic places and endless sky still beckoned to be discovered; music and songs yet to be heard and sung; history, facts and details to be learned, and so very much delicious pasta to be eaten and savoured. Reid still had a great deal of talent and creativity to express, so very much work and play left undone - and most importantly, so many precious moments of laughter, tears and love yet to be shared with those dearest to him.
Reid lived life as fully in his brief 19 years as many live in a lifetime twice as long. He was so very mature despite his tender age and was a young man possessing strong convictions. Indeed, he wanted his death to be marked in a manner that would be consistent with the way he chose to live his life. His greatest passion, even beyond that for history, was flying. And about a year ago, Reid wrote a brief yet poignant essay, which he called "Never Lose Your Dreams." It is a treasure that will remain an inspiration for many in the years to come.
After Reid's condition was considered "resolved" in 2006, he sought a job on the ground crew at Buttonville Airport, just north of Toronto. There is no doubt that his boss at Flightline helped Reid fuel his passion for flying and gave him something to live for. And thanks to his Aunt Laurie, he was able to take flying lessons and move towards his dream. What lay behind Reid's love and need for flight is multifaceted. Reid found flying relaxing and thrilling, a thrill derived from living on the edge of the unexpected. Most importantly, he was in complete control. Reid was never fond of boundaries and flying set him free.
On February 26, 2008 Reid would have turned 20. From a mother's perspective, not a child any more, but hardly a grown man. Yet Reid was considerably older than his chronological age. He was more mature, more knowledgeable, wiser and decidedly more experienced than most Reid - 19 years old teenagers his age. Clearly, some of those experiences with illness and hospitals, he certainly could have done without, but how ironic his dream of becoming a fighter pilot was never realized yet he became a fierce fighter in the most important battle - the battle for his life. I have little doubt that had be become the fighter pilot of his dreams, he would have earned a Star of Courage - he would have been skilled and ingenious and protected his team with ferocity. Reid was definitely hero material.
Reid wasn't always the perfect kid. He really could be a pain in the butt - intense, impatient, the temper of an Irishman, irresponsible on occasion, irresponsive - meaning that when it didn't suit him he wouldn't answer the cell phone his dad got for it in other ways. But he also had a generous and loving heart that always made room for people, particularly his girlfriend Brittany, who was the love of his life, and his best friends Dave and Alex. Alex responded with loyalty, maintaining a close friendship with Reid through their adolescence and the hardest days of his treatments.
Reid was charming and brave and funny and that sense of humour really came in handy after his diagnosis. He employed it religiously to relieve both his own tension and those around him. He also used it to challenge his doctors. As his time grew close, they never had good news for him and he would insist on making them tell and retell him in the minutest detail both the diagnosis and prognosis of his illness and treatment plan.
Reid's brother Branden is quite a few years older and has a very different personality. Close as children, these differences caused them to naturally drift apart as teenagers and Reid especially wanted to hide his pain from his older brother. Nevertheless, while in poor health, Reid watched in amazement as Branden left a comfortable job in order to go back to school full time and work part time. He was impressed how hard Branden worked and how committed he was in taking such a risk. But risk was something Reid could well understand and he was so proud of his brother. Reid borrowed Branden's courage and determination, his father's serenity and focus, and yes, my own strength and commitment, until his last breath.
During his battle with cancer, Reid never gave up on his life or allowed this terrible disease to break his wonderful spirit. From his inspirational life and brilliant spirit comes the determination to continue the battle against Ewing sarcoma and to one day soon, find the cure.
The Ewings Cancer Foundation of Canada