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From Grief to Actions: The Story Behind Hawks vs. Cancer

Shelby Miller ‘14 , Assistant Features Editor
January 23, 2013
Filed under Features

“For me, death was not an option for her,” said Taylor Mallory, ’13. “I didn’t want her to think that way.”

Chronic illnesses not only consume the lives of their victims, but also the lives of the victims’ loved ones. When the people affected by their diseases are forced to adjust their lives to accommodate the demands and restrictions of their illness, their families often vow to do the same.

Mallory and her family did just that when Taylor’s 24-year-old sister, Margo Mallory Ambler, was unexpectedly diagnosed with cervical cancer.

“I remember not even letting myself cry when she was diagnosed. We were always so positive and optimistic about it,” said Mallory. “My parents were both there for my sister through every second of her fight.”

The cancer was extremely aggressive, forcing Margo to have multiple surgeries, as well as two six-week treatments of intense chemotherapy, followed by radiation.

Despite all of the tests that were completed, doctors and specialists were unable to identify the cause or the reason for its rapid growth rate in a woman as young and healthy as Margo.

According to an in-depth health report by “The New York Times,” 50 percent of diagnoses of cervical cancer occur in women 35 – 54 and 20 percent in women over 65, with a median age of 48 years old. Only 15 percent of women between the ages of 20 – 30 develop cervical cancer.

“Her biggest struggle was not knowing how or why she got it, especially because it’s so rare in someone her age,” added Mallory. “It definitely wasn’t something any of us expected.”

Margo was diagnosed on Dec. 5, 2011 and battled bravely and courageously until losing her fight on Sept. 21, 2012.

“I’ve experienced loss in friends and family before,” said Mallory. “But Margo’s death really had a strong impact on me. I don’t think any of us thought it would end as quickly as it did.”

During those nine short months, Margo remained strong for her family, the way that they stayed strong for her. Her disease became a part of her, but she never let it define her.

“I don’t even think she knew she had it in her to be so strong,” added Mallory. “She went through chemo with a smile and positive attitude. It was something I admired about her. She was awesome.”

The way that Margo confronted her fate was inspiring to her three other sisters, especially to Taylor. But regardless of the amount of inspiration, a chronic illness like cancer has the power to change everything.

Both Taylor Mallory and her younger sister had to face the pain of the situation and tragedy of the loss while away at college. Initially though, the distance from her family and the reality of the experience, seemed to be the best way for Mallory to handle such a life-changing situation.

“While I was [at St. Joe’s], it’s not that I forgot about it, but I was always distracted and I didn’t have to think about it every second of the day like my family did,” said Mallory.

After her sister passed away, Mallory only stayed out of school for about two weeks before returning to what she hoped would be a normal routine.

“It was hard to concentrate on academics, but soccer was the best therapy, so that helped keep me focused,” added Mallory.

Being a member of the St. Joe’s women’s soccer team, along with having the company of many of her friends, led Mallory to believe that school was an ideal escape from it all.

Mallory said, “I surprised myself at first with how well I was handling my sister’s death.”

But as the season ended and her time was no longer consumed with playing games or practicing, Mallory began to realize how she truly felt about losing one of her heroes and best friends.

“It was never something I liked to talk about, and while I was at school I wanted to be just like everyone else. When you’re going through something like this, there’s nothing that tells you how to handle it. Sometimes you feel like no one understands,” Mallory said.

Eventually, Margo’s passing began to take hold, forcing Mallory to face the reality that she had been evading.

“For me, the most difficult part was accepting this reality. I tried to run from it. I figured if I could avoid it and distract myself, then I could push it out of my mind,” confessed Mallory. “This definitely hasn’t been the case recently. Some nights I have trouble sleeping. Some days I don’t want to even get out of bed.”

She said, “I never knew it was possible to miss someone so much. I look at her pictures and still can’t believe she’s gone. Sometimes I swear it isn’t real.”

While the heartache can be unbearable, Mallory has started to embrace her grief and use it in a positive way.

“Admitting to yourself that you’re in pain is a huge step in the healing process, and I am finally realizing that. I used to think people would see it as a sign of weakness, but now I see it as a sign of strength,” Mallory declared.

In the way that her sister Margo stayed positive through her nine-month battle, Taylor Mallory found that same strength to carry on Margo’s memory.

“I quickly became extremely passionate about raising cancer awareness and sharing my sister’s story,” said Mallory.

Advocating for her sister’s memory and fighting against cervical cancer have become both occupations for Mallory, as well as helping to form her identity

Margo kept an Internet blog, “bamitgirl,” which chronicled her battle against cervical cancer, while she simultaneously planned a late August 2012 wedding to her future husband, Derek Ambler.

After her sister’s passing, Mallory felt compelled to continue that blog and maintain the same strength, inspiration, and passion that her sister put forth to her readers. She calls her blog, “stillBAMingit.”

Mallory said, “So many people loved reading her blog, I didn’t think her story should end there.
For me I didn’t want it to look like – oh she’s gone and that’s it?”

With the help of her fellow teammates, Mallory founded the St. Joe’s program, Hawks vs. Cancer, to help raise awareness and support for cervical cancer.

“It’s a small group right now, but every single dollar can help. I really feel like we’re making a difference,” declared Mallory. “And all of the spring sports teams have agreed to do a game [in support of the program].”

Hawks vs. Cancer will be working the St. Joe’s men’s basketball game against Xavier University on Saturday, Jan. 26. Mallory and other members will be collecting donations before the game. Students who donate will be given a teal colored “Hawks for Margo” t-shirt.

“No matter how big or small the donation, all donors will get a shirt. We hope to flood the entire student section with teal shirts,” said Mallory.

At halftime, Hawks vs. Cancer will pay tribute to Margo, as well as all those lost to or still fighting against cancer.

Recently, Mallory joined forces with St. Joe’s men’s basketball coach, Phil Martelli, in order to get involved with Coaches vs. Cancer, in which other NCAA basketball coaches participate.

Mallory said, “Martelli reached out and connected us with the woman in charge of the Philadelphia sector of Coaches vs. Cancer. She works for the American Cancer Society and has offered to help in any way possible.”

With the help of the American Cancer Society, Mallory and her family hope to set up a foundation in Margo’s honor.

Mallory plans to continue doing charity work and stay actively involved in the fight against cancer even after she graduates from Saint Joseph’s.

“Cancer will always be a part of me,” added Mallory.

Her new blog, as well as her founding of Hawks vs. Cancer, has not only helped Margo’s memory to thrive, but has also helped Mallory deal with the loss.

“I hope that my blog and Hawks vs. Cancer will help people realize that they are not alone,” noted Mallory. “We all have our demons and I am finally realizing that it’s okay to admit this to others.”

Taylor Mallory’s blog: http://stillbamingit.wordpress.com/

Margo Mallory’s blog: http://bamitgirl.wordpress.com/about/

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