If you’re familiar with the name Holly Butcher, it’s probably because one of her Facebook posts went viral in 2018. In fact, Butcher’s words touched so many people that they spread halfway around the world. And the message she gives in the post may even help you get more out of your life – after it completely reduces you to tears, that is.
Yes, what the young woman wrote resonated with many; it could even have changed some for the better. But the social media update is made all the more heartrending when you become aware of Butcher’s circumstances. You see, it was Butcher’s own seemingly hopeless situation that led her to view the world in a completely new light.
For most of her life, Butcher was much like other people her age – until, one day, everything changed. The Australian woman had suffered from some health complaints, with these naturally leading her to visit a physician. And while Butcher may not have worried too much before the tests to determine what was wrong were completed, the results of those inquiries turned out to be bad ones. Devastatingly, her ailment was life-limiting, and suddenly all the mundane trivialities of day-to-day existence took a back seat.
Upon learning that she had a rare form of bone cancer, then, Butcher began living in a different way. She started seeing just how meaningless trivial things were, too, and how much people obsessed over them. And her response to this epiphany was to write a letter and post it on social media.
But what did this enlightening letter say, and why was it so important? Well, before we get into that, you should probably know a bit more about the woman who gave the message. For starters, Butcher, who lived in New South Wales, Australia, led the active life of a health and fitness aficionado.
In fact, Butcher’s passion for sports went far beyond a mere hobby, as she had actually played at a professional level for her home state in both hockey and squash. Tragically, though, all this had to come to an end as her health deteriorated. And this was despite the fact that the Australian’s problems had started off as seemingly small at first.
You see, initially Butcher began experiencing pain in her knee during exercise – a situation that’s not by itself unusual among sports players. More alarmingly, though, her discomfort also seemed to increase after drinking, while the problem only got worse as time passed. In the end, then, Holly visited her doctor to try to get to the bottom of what was happening, after which physicians duly ran some tests.
Unfortunately, when the medical results came back, they revealed that Butcher’s pain was no ordinary sports injury. A particularly rare type of cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma was actually responsible, and its progression was significant, too. Understandably, the news devastated not only Holly but also her family, who rallied around her for support.
Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Ewing’s Sarcoma, as it’s a relatively uncommon form of the disease. To understand it better, however, it helps to know a little more about what cancer is and how it develops. And as you may already know, there are many forms of cancer – all of which begin with abnormal cells in the body.
You see, while human cells should naturally create proteins, occasionally they mutate and so don’t work in the way that they should. Instead, the cells either stop protein production altogether or begin growing in a different manner. And yet this isn’t necessarily a big problem, as some kinds of cell damage are benign and are, by and large, harmless to us.
Things only become more problematic when such cell changes occur over and over again. And mutations that recur, don’t stop and eventually spread uncontrollably are likely cancerous. Some forms of genetic damage are acquired during the course of a lifetime, too, and this partly explains why older folk are usually at greater risk of cancer than the young.
But, of course, there are many external influences that can increase cancer risks – smoking and excessive exposure to ultraviolet light being two of the most widely known examples. In addition, there’s a second, rarer type of cause: inherited or germline mutation. In particular, if a mother’s egg or father’s sperm carries a mutated gene, this could be passed on to their children.
However, there are at least a couple of factors that differentiate Ewing’s Sarcoma (ES) from other cancers. The first is that it’s still unclear exactly what causes the disease, making it something of a medical mystery. The second, meanwhile, is that children and younger adults are the ones who primarily suffer from ES.
In most cases, the patients who develop ES tumors are between the ages of ten and 20. The condition also seems to be more common in boys and young men than in girls and women. What we do know about ES, though, largely began in 1920 with a pathologist called James Ewing, who classified and lent his name to the disease.
And although experts don’t know precisely what sparks ES, they’re aware that it usually involves irregularities in a sufferer’s chromosomes. This phenomenon – which is technically called reciprocal translocation – leads to the creation of tumors that are classified as Ewing’s Sarcoma. Yet ES is still difficult to diagnose, and in roughly a quarter of cases the cancer has begun to spread before its discovery.
Typically, ES attacks bones and their surrounding tissue, causing pain and visible swelling. The disease can also lead to other symptoms, such as fatigue, a persistent fever and weight loss. And the cancer itself seems most prevalent in sufferers’ legs – particularly the knees, as with Butcher – although the arms, spine, ribs and pelvis may also be affected.
But there are other ways in which ES manifests in patients, too. Bones may get weaker, for instance, and may fracture or break as a result. That said, painful muscles or broken bones can also be symptomatic of many other conditions. And when this factor is combined with the relative rarity of ES, it makes the disease hard to diagnose.
So exactly how do physicians identify Ewing’s Sarcoma when it’s so elusive? Well, there are several different kinds of tests that may show signs of ES, such as X-rays or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. Doctors can also detect cancers – including Ewing’s Sarcoma – with a bone biopsy.
The cancer is often detected when a patient breaks a bone, though, with ES showing up in subsequent tests. Then, once physicians detect the problem, there are three main methods of eradicating it: chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery. Alternatively, a combination of several different treatments may be required to thoroughly fight the disease.
In the majority of cases, a treatment plan begins with a common weapon against cancer: chemotherapy. This procedure works by bombarding the patient’s body with a drug – or a mixture of them – that poisons cells. Chemotherapy specifically targets rapidly multiplying cells, which are usually tumors spreading through a patient’s body.
However, skin and hair cells also increase quickly in number, so the chemotherapy usually affects them, too. That’s why cancer patients undergoing treatment frequently lose their hair. In addition, chemo can make the recipient feel tired, nauseous and generally run-down. And in the case of ES, removing shrunk sarcomas via surgery may be a necessary extra step.
The severity of any surgical procedure, however, depends on how far the ES has advanced, and it can range from removing the affected part of the bone to entirely amputating a limb. The disease can and will spread rapidly if it’s left unchecked, after all, and late-diagnosed and undetected cases can be terminal.
And tragically, it was the worst-case scenario for Butcher, whose Ewing’ Sarcoma had gone unnoticed and was very advanced. In fact, by the time doctors could diagnose her disease in 2017, it had already reached stage four – meaning it was terminal. But although the young woman only had a short time left to live, she made the most of it.
For one, Butcher spent more time doing the things she loved with the people she loved. And in doing so, she saw the world in a new light – one that she wanted to explain through her Facebook account. So, in 2018 Holly took to the social media site and wrote a letter that began, “A bit of life advice from Hol.”
Butcher’s message continued, “It’s a strange thing to realize and accept your mortality at 26 years young. It’s just one of those things you ignore. The days tick by, and you just expect they will keep on coming – until the unexpected happens.” And the young woman went on to reveal that she had had her own visions of what her future would look like.
Butcher elaborated, “I always imagined myself growing old, wrinkled and gray, most likely caused by the beautiful family (lots of kiddies) I planned on building with the love of my life. I want that so bad it hurts. That’s the thing about life. It is fragile, precious and unpredictable, and each day is a gift – not a given right.”
Yet even though her life was being cut cruelly short, Butcher seemed to accept the situation. She explained, “I’m 27 now. I don’t want to go. I love my life. I am happy, [and] I owe that to my loved ones. But the control is out of my hands.” Nonetheless, the Australian seemingly didn’t want her last words to be morbid ones.
The young woman went on, “I haven’t started this ‘note before I die’ so that death is feared. I like the fact that we are mostly ignorant to its inevitability, except when I want to talk about it and it is treated like a ‘taboo’ topic that will never happen to any of us. That’s been a bit tough.”
In essence, then, Butcher wanted others to be aware of death’s certainty and to use it as a reason to live fuller lives. She noted, “I just want people to stop worrying so much about the small, meaningless stresses in life and try to remember that we all have the same fate.”
Butcher’s note continued, “So, do what you can to make your time feel worthy and great, minus the bulls**t.” And she shared some valuable wisdom to try to help everyone to do just that. Firstly, she advised readers to let go of the little things.
Butcher pleaded, “Those times you are whingeing about ridiculous things – something I have noticed so much these past few months – just think about someone who is really facing a problem. Be grateful for your minor issue, and get over it. It’s okay to acknowledge that something is annoying, but try not to carry on about it and negatively affect other people’s days.”
In addition, Butcher encouraged self-acceptance and being happy with what you have. She added, “Your new fake nails might have got a chip, your boobs are too small, or you have cellulite on your a** and your belly is wobbling. Let all that s**t go.”
And Butcher explained how facing her own mortality had made her realize that all these petty worries didn’t matter. “I swear you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go,” she asserted. “It is all so insignificant when you look at life as a whole.” In addition, she said, you should celebrate your health.
To that end, Butcher added, “Appreciate your good health and functioning body, even if it isn’t your ideal size. Look after it and embrace how amazing it is. Move it and nourish it with fresh food. Don’t obsess over it. Remember there are more aspects to good health than the physical body.”
“That way, you might realize just how insignificant and unimportant having this stupidly portrayed perfect social media body really is,” Butcher wrote. “While on this topic, delete any account that pops up on your news feeds that gives you any sense of feeling s**t about yourself – friend or not. Be ruthless for your own wellbeing.”
And Butcher believed that people are also forgetting to appreciate what’s in front of them. She said, “Try to just enjoy being in moments rather than capturing them through the screen of your phone. Life isn’t meant to be lived through a screen, nor is it about getting the perfect photo. Enjoy the bloody moment, people! Stop trying to capture it for everyone else.”
“Say no to things you really don’t want to do,” Butcher continued. “Don’t feel pressured to do what other people might think is a fulfilling life. You might want a mediocre life, and that is so okay. Tell your loved ones you love them every time you get the chance and love them with everything you have.”
Butcher elaborated, “Also, remember if something is making you miserable, you do have the power to change it – in work or love or whatever it may be. Have the guts to change. Anyway, that’s just this one young gal’s life advice. Take it or leave it; I don’t mind! Oh and one last thing, if you can: do a good deed for humanity (and myself) and start regularly donating blood. It will make you feel good, with the added bonus of saving lives.”
“Blood donation – more bags than I could keep up with counting – helped keep me alive for an extra year,” Butcher concluded. “A year I will be forever grateful that I got to spend it here on Earth with my family, friends and dog. A year I had some of the greatest times of my life. ’Til we meet again.”
Butcher passed away the day after her family uploaded that message to Facebook for her in January 2018. And a massive 800 people would attend her funeral to both celebrate her life and to say goodbye. But her memory lives on in that emotional letter, which reached so many people and perhaps even changed some minds in the process.