Updated: Jul 6
Some say bad things come in threes, but life has a way of bringing us full circle. Moments intertwined with our deepest heartaches and fears.
ONE. Four years ago, on this very day, a precious baby boy entered the world - Levi Austin Reynolds. He arrived three weeks early, a healthy 7 lbs 2 oz. But his arrival was met with a profound stillness...
Months before Levi's birth, my husband and I received a devastating prognosis. Levi was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that caused his delicate kidneys to be filled with cysts. At the 20-week mark of the pregnancy, we were informed this occurrence was unexplainable, and we had to mentally prepare ourselves to say goodbye. Despite our relentless efforts and travels to give him a fighting chance, even if just for a moment, there was no way to save his life. Even though we had months to brace ourselves for his loss, the heartbreak felt insurmountable.
All the maternal energy within me, reserved for mothering Levi, was channeled into passion projects like Levi's Grace, Inc. and Levitate Legal - both named in his honor. Those who worked with me during that period will tell you that I was a machine. Ideas and top-notch work flowed effortlessly as if there was no tomorrow. I would put my children to sleep and would work through the night. I wasn't sleeping. I couldn't sleep. It was a highly productive and profitable period in my life on the surface. Truthfully, it was an unhealthy coping mechanism...a way to evade the weight of a pain I was not ready to confront.
TWO. Eight months later, my father received a second diagnosis of colon cancer as well as lymphoma. He was first diagnosed at the age of 27 while serving in the Air Force.
Despite being given a survival prognosis of five years in 1983, he defied the odds and lived almost 40 more years. During that time, he had the joy of watching me graduate, walking me down the wedding aisle, and meeting three of his four grandchildren. Two days before he died, he sent me a set of new stainless steel pots and pans for the home we had just purchased for our growing family. He passed away when I was six months pregnant with my daughter, Savvi. He was 65 years old. Cancer has taken a toll on the Sharpley family, also claiming the lives of his brother at 58 and his mother at 59.
My dad was my closest confidant before I married Venny, and was my go-to on how to handle difficult professional situations. Losing my dad forced me to learn invaluable lessons on how to "Get a GRIP" on life without him. I leaned in and learned to approach each situation with GRATITUDE, to keep my heart within REACH of my faith and the people who genuinely love and care for me, to trust my INTUITION when it came to people and situations, and to maintain a healthy PERSPECTIVE when good and bad things happen in life. My personal and professional life began to flourish...
THREE. Less than two years later, I was diagnosed with cancer.
When I turned 40 last October, I was overcome with a sense of urgency about my own health. I was especially worried about cancer given my family history. I really can't explain it because I had no physical indications of any health issues, but those closest to me know how strong my instincts were during this time. I went to my doctor, shared my concerns, and that same day my doctor felt a nodule on my thyroid. He sent me for a series of tests and scans, but shared that ninety percent of thyroid nodules are benign. Mine was not.
Fortunately, my thyroid cancer was in its early stages and non-aggressive, making it highly treatable through surgery and likely oral radiation treatments. However, it is still cancer and the thought of sharing this news with my family left me terrified.
After facing the mortality of my son and my dad, these past few months have allowed me to contemplate my own mortality and the role I want to play in the lives of my loved ones - my colleagues, friends, family, mom, husband, and children. It's forced me to realize my fears about death and the thought of having to say goodbye too soon, once again. The surgery to remove my thyroid took place three weeks ago, so my voice is still weak and recovering. During this period of quiet, I am discovering a new voice and reflecting on my life's achievements, as well as contemplating how I want to spend the time I have left. I have taken a moment to reflect on the losses my family has endured over the past five years, including the passing of my uncle and two beloved grandmothers.
I am reminded of the lessons my father taught me: love only those things that are capable of reciprocating love. Work diligently, but remember that work itself cannot love you; titles cannot love you; money cannot love you. Focus on the people in your life who bring out the best in you and love them with intensity. Remain steadfast in your personal values and never compromise them to appease others. Use your God-given talents for the good of your community. By making these things your priority, everything else will naturally fall into place.
Today, I'm healing and working to put cancer behind me. I'm prioritizing the relationships and values that are most important to me. While I am happy in this moment, I acknowledge that my experiences over the past five years have profoundly changed my outlook on life. Our encounters with adversity mold us into who we are, and I sincerely hope that in a your own struggles, you can unearth a glimmer of hope that pays homage to the memory of your loved ones.
Let me share my glimmer. Along this journey, I discovered that I possess a genetic mutation with the potential to trigger the transformation of normal cells into cancerous ones. This particular mutation is commonly associated with various types of cancers, including thyroid, lymphoma, lung adenocarcinoma, and colorectal cancer, all of which have impacted my family. I also learned that this particular mutation can be inherited in rare cases, and if present from birth, can lead to significant health complications.
I don't know if this mutation is related to the loss of Levi or my dad, but knowing about it brings me great comfort. This understanding will allow me to pass down generational knowledge to my children, and my children's children. It will empower them with insights into our family's health history that were previously unknown. It has motivated me to make lifestyle changes that will improve my health outcomes and longevity. From that perspective, this is a remarkable blessing that will impact my family tree for generations to come.
I don't usually divulge this much personal information on social channels, but today, on Levi's birthday, I am compelled to pay tribute to him by offering a little solace to anyone who may be grappling with grief or loss. I also implore you to prioritize your physical and mental well-being and that of your family. Make time for it. If your current healthcare provider doesn't listen to you, give them their walking papers and find one that does. Your voice and your health are invaluable to you and those who love you.
Let's be kind to each other. You don't know what others are going through.