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Athena Orchard: 12-year-old dies of cancer, dad finds her heartbreaking messages

Athena Orchard died of cancer last week, but in an unexpected turn of events, Athena’s father discovered that his daughter had left behind much more than an aching heart for him. Athena also left behind spiritual notes and messages about love, hope, and what matters most in life. As reported by The Telegraph on June 4, “a 12-year-old girl who died following a battle with cancer left a secret message hidden on the back of her mirror.” Athena lived with her parents, six sisters, and three brothers in New Parks, Leicester, in the UK.

Athena Orchard: 12-year-old dies of cancer; video shows her heartbreaking notes
GoFundMe/Athenas goodbye fund

Losing a child is the most unimaginable pain that any parent can experience. Athena’s mom Caroline says, "When I wake up in the morning I just wish it was all a dream, but I look at her bed, where she passed away, and it becomes real again and it's horrible."

After having lost his 12-year-old daughter to cancer last Wednesday, Athena’s dad Dean was trying to deal with his grief, when he found something utterly unexpected in his daughter’s bedroom – a 3,000 word message left behind by his daughter. Shortly after her death, the preteen’s father was left "blown away" when he found a giant note written in marker pen on the back of his daughter's mirror, reported the Express.

“It was a stand-up mirror in her room, and it was always lent up against the wall so we never saw behind it. When I moved the mirror after she died I couldn’t believe it, I saw all this writing, it must have been about 3,000 words. I started reading it but before long I had to stop because it was too much, it was heartbreaking.”

Athena’s mom said that “we knew that Athena loved to write, that was part of who she was, it made her happy. We’re keeping the mirror forever, it is a part of her we can keep in the house, it will always be in her room. Just reading her words felt like she was still here with us, she had such an incredible spirit.”

That incredible spirit included being selfless beyond anyone's imagination. Athena told her mom that "I'm glad it was me who got ill and not any of my brothers and sisters." "All she did was worry about how everyone else was feeling," says Caroline. "Her brothers and sisters are devastated and they're being brave, but that's only because Athena's bravery has rubbed off on them. The youngest keep asking when she's coming home and I have to tell them 'she's up in the stars with special angels looking after her'. But they ask 'when can the angels bring her home?' and it's so hard to explain."

According to a report coming from Leicester, Athena collapsed at home last December during Christmas time. After the discovery of a small lump on her head, exams, and even more tests, the preteen was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a malignant cancerous bone tumor. Following the osteosarcoma diagnosis, Athena had to undergo a 7 1/2-hour surgery and intense chemotherapy treatments since the cancer was not only in her head, but also in her spine and left shoulder. She wore a wig to cover her hair loss.

After her diagnosis and throughout the months of treatments, however, Athena didn’t focus on death but on life – not for herself, but for those she would leave behind.

"Every day is special, so make the most of it. You could get a life-ending illness tomorrow so make the most of every day. Life is only bad if you make it bad," was one of the messages that she secretly wrote behind the mirror.

"Happiness depends upon ourselves. Maybe it's not about the happy ending, maybe it's about the story. The purpose of life is a life of purpose," was one of her other messages.

Below are a few more of the messages that Athena wrote behind the mirror:

"Happiness depends upon ourselves.”

"The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra. Happiness is a direction, not a destination.”

"You know my name, not my story.”

"You have heard what I've done, but not what I've been through.”

"Love is like glass, looks so lovely, but it's easy to shatter.”

"Remember that life is full of ups and downs; without the downs the ups don't mean anything.”

Athena’s last message written on the mirror reads, “There's no need to cry because I know you'll be by my side.” Athena died at home in her dad's arms.

Athena Orchard collected her own as well as others’ inspirational thoughts in her 3,000-word message for those she would leave behind. Her dad says that even though he knew his daughter to be a quite spiritual person, Athena never said a word about writing down messages, certainly not behind the mirror. Athena would have most likely commented about that, “well, it’s not what you say; it’s what you do.”

According to the local Leicester news, “Athena's funeral will take place at Gilroes cemetery on Thursday, June 12, at 1pm. For more information about flowers or donations, call Co-operative Funeral Service, on 0116 251 6906. A special funding page has also been set up to help with the costs. To donate, visit:”

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