Brother’s battle against cancer inspirational to loving sister

Brother’s battle against cancer inspirational to loving sister
By ASHLEY TANKERSLEY
Special to The Messenger
Christopher Reeve once said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
A few years ago, I wrote several articles for The Messenger about ordinary heroes and the inspiration they served to their fellow man. Since then, I have made an addition to the list of souls that inspire mine. That addition not only sought to touch my heart, but the reason it touched mine broke it, as well.
On Dec. 16, 2008,  I penned a letter to myself that described the aftermath of my experience watching my only sibling, the brother I would die for, fight a war that made him a soldier, in his own right. That war was cancer. Diagnosed at 15, Tyler Tankersley battled an aggressive form of cancer with lymph node involvement — not once, but twice. I looked on as the sibling I had always protected and inspired, inspired me. I watched my teenage brother put on his spiritual and mortal armor and fight back, with all that he had, to tackle something far greater than he. For months, I looked on as Tyler forfeited the time that he would have spent playing football for the Obion County Central High School Rebels, hanging out with friends and being a normal teenager to a deadly disease. I watched him soldier through two major surgeries, numerous rounds of chemo and the loss of hair, weight, cognitive capabilities and the life he once dreamed of.
Most days, I wished it was me; on those same days, I had Tyler to remind me that though his war was great and the costs were even greater, he was chosen by God to wage it, and his strength became my own. That strength is a blessing that we both carry with us today.
Tyler’s life has touched many since his diagnosis in 2008, but few really understand that his journey came with a price that can never be repaid. Tyler has, for as long as my memory allows, always been a bright and gifted student and an excellent athlete. He has grown up dreaming of his senior year and a senior football season, in which he could leave his heart on the field. That dream will become a reality on Aug. 21 when he takes the field in the No. 54 Rebel jersey.
Against all odds and his oncologist’s best interests, Tyler has spent the last year of his life preparing for what is to come of his purpose, right now. From late-night devotions and prayers, to give his body strength, to becoming the first active St. Jude patient ever to participate in a half- or full marathon.
Tyler has continually set goals for himself that though adverse have been reachable. That journey has cost him dearly but, according to him, the rewards are greater. Life and the appreciation I have for the small things in it mean much more now than in my younger years. I have grown to realize that the moments and abilities I have taken for granted and the plans I have made are ones that I can’t take back or change. One is that my brother may never have the opportunity to experience. He will, however, always know what it’s like to have low-functioning kidneys that run a severe threat to his body of constant and life-threatening dehydration. He will always know the pain of degenerative cartilage in his joints. He will always know the frustration of never again being able to easily comprehend geometric angles, due to neurocognitive late effects caused by chemotherapy. And he will always live with the potential unmet desire to father his own children. But, at the same time, he will always know what it’s like to play through the pain, to fight through tears and, when all hope seems lost, to soldier on. Tyler will continue to battle, he will continue to endure and persevere in spite of overwhelming obstacles, and he will continue to build on heroism.
In just a few weeks, I, and many adoring fans, will look on as the OCCHS Rebels open their 2010-11 football season. With a fiery and dedicated coaching staff, Tyler and his band of brothers, the teammates he loves and respects, will take the field. They may or may not make history by winning championships, but they will make history because they know the rewards that come from winning a war when all hope is lost. Tyler will line up on the offensive line when the Friday night lights come up at left tackle, where he will be protecting the quarterback’s blindside. He will be pushed to his physical limits but he will push back, for he has seen the frontlines of a much greater war before. Despite the limitations that have fallen on his body from battling cancer so young, he will give each play his all because he possesses something much more important than a fully functioning coat of armour. He possesses the heart of a champion and the courage of a hero.
Eleanor Roosevelt once stated, “Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. You do not have to become a hero over night. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering you have the strength to stare it down.”
My brother’s life is a testament to this. He will walk on a football field around a dozen times this fall and he will graduate from high school next May. His legacy and heroism will carry on as he continues to overcome the limitations set by his life journey. He will go on to college and then a career. He will marry and raise children. His life and his journey will be a living testimony to Jesus Christ and His plans to prosper Tyler. He will achieve his dreams; for it is “not the glittering weapon that fights the field, but rather the hero’s heart.” Tyler Tankersley is an ordinary individual that, through courage, has become an extraordinary hero.
Ashley Tankersley is the daughter of Shawn and Pam Tankersley of Union City. She is about to begin physical therapy school at UT Health Sciences in Memphis.
Published in The Messenger 8.11.10

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