Feisty and spirited are two words used often to describe Terry Milling. While these are true, Terry was also a girl, the youngest of three daughters, who just wanted to live life. She wanted to go to school, enjoyed playing soccer and loved to paint. Terry had a style all her own – shoes were meant to be colorful and funky. And, like most other young girls, Terry had a dream of what she wanted to be when she grew up.
Terry hoped to become a pediatric oncologist. She wanted to help other children like her.
In the fall of 2002, doctors would discover a tumor on Terry’s liver. She would need emergency surgery, and, possibly, a liver transplant. Terry’s Mom, Pam, recalls feeling the need to be strong when telling Terry’s sisters, Mary Corinne and India, what was happening to their little sister. She didn’t want to scare them, but she wanted to be honest.
Surgeons were able to remove Terry’s tumor. She would not need a new liver and life would return to “normal” for the Stockbridge family.
Terry celebrated her 6th birthday in January 2003. Three months later her tumor would return. Terry had cancer – undifferentiated sarcoma – a rare solid tumor. Terry and her family would learn a “new normal” which included hospitals, surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, blood transfusions, platelets, fevers and nausea.
Neither Mary Corinne, a fifth grader at the time, nor India, a second grader, really understood what it meant to have cancer. India remembers thinking “how can Terry not be okay.”
Terry, the feisty, spirited girl would charge forth in her battle to beat cancer.
“She was a warrior. She never gave up,” says Pam of her courageous daughter.
Terry was always hopeful and positive she would survive the Cancer Monster. Then the treatments stopped working. Doctors told Terry there was nothing else to be done. She would pass away at 12-years-old.
Terry gained her angel wings on July 1, 2009. The grief is not as “raw” for Pam, Mary Corinne and India as it was right after Terry died.
“Learning to be happy again doesn’t mean you don’t miss the child you lost any less,” Pam says through tears. “I miss her every day. You live with it.”
For Mary Corinne and India their journey with grief would include the loss of their sister and their father, Gordon. Just a few months after losing Terry, Gordon was diagnosed with skin cancer.
Both Mary Corinne and India remember feeling numb to the news that their Dad would not survive.
“I tried not to think about it,” says India. “If you don’t see the sickness, then it’s not real.”
But the cancer was real for their Dad and he would pass away seven months after Terry.
Despite the years that have gone by, grief knows no time line and there are still days when it’s hard.
Terry would have been 18 in January 2015. She would have graduated high school and gone off to college. These milestones never came to be, making this past year a struggle at times. Pam and the girls are grateful they have family, friends and Camp Sunshine to get them through the difficult days.
Camp Sunshine is a place for families of children with cancer to feel safe, have fun and find support. Camp Sunshine became a huge part of Pam, Mary Corinne, India and Terry’s lives during their family’s journey with cancer and remains a place of comfort for them today.
Pam and Mary Corinne volunteer at Camp Twin Lakes for camps hosted by Camp Sunshine. They find healing in helping others who are in the midst of the cancer fight. India plans to join her Mom and sister as a volunteer in the coming years.
Within Camp Sunshine is a group for parents who have lost children to cancer. “Everyone’s experience is different in the group,” says Pam. “But you can say anything and people get it.”
There have been reasons to celebrate this past year. Mary Corinne graduated from college, got married and is working as a Child Life Specialist. India is nearing graduation and has plans for her future in the healthcare field.
“Terry told us to ‘have fun, but not too much fun’ when she was gone,” recalls Mary Corinne.
They are doing their best to honor what Terry wanted for them. Along with making sure Terry’s dream – of a world where no child has to go through what she did – is never forgotten.
Funds are raised each year in Terry’s name to support CURE Childhood Cancer’s research efforts to find a cure for all children’s cancers.
Grief impacts people in different ways. If you find yourself struggling to process the loss of a loved one, seek help through family, friends, support groups and/or professional counseling. Finding happiness following a loss is a journey.
“Grief never ends. But it changes. It’s a passage not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith. It is the price of love.” – Author Unknown