Heather Haney, and her brother, Will, were very close to being like fraternal twins, except for the fact they were 16 months apart! They were inseparable from birth until the moment Will passed in 2011. He had a rare cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma (pronounced RAB-doh MY-oh Sar-COMA), and it normally strikes children. The battle is waged most often in muscles, other soft tissue and occasionally in the bones. He fought hard for 19 months. The stories of that unspeakably painful process, Will’s warrior spirit, and what the family has gone on to do to help others facing this and other cancers all stand as the inspiration for both this article and the 5K’s theme title, “Race of Champions.” It will be held on July 30th, which is the day after what would have been Will’s 40th birthday.
Heather came in for the interview with her friend Joe Sanford, who is like family to the Haneys and hearing them both speak about the impact that Will made on everyone made me look forward to meeting him when I shed this “earthly tent.” Let’s just say there was not a “dry eye in the place,” and it is my honor to tell Will’s story, as well as invite you to come and participate in the 5K. You don’t have to be an experienced runner, you can walk, and join with others in the community who are taking time out to help others “finish strong,” while they build their own health, spirit, and heart.
While Will was alive, the community did three fundraisers to help with the expenses of treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Remember, cancer does not just attack a person, it attacks their family, friends, church, and community. Heather said, “The good people of Limestone County helped Will, and our family, and in return we want to keep Will’s legacy alive by helping those in need.” Will’s courage and legacy affected even the medical staff who was treating him. Heather added, “Will’s doctor, Dr. Ravi, truly loved Will, and fought hard with him and for him. In fact, just before Will died, Dr. Ravi flew from Houston; he came to say good bye, hugged Will, got on the plane, and flew straight back to Houston to his other patients.” All I could say was, “Wow.”
I asked them to tell me a bit about Will, and while it was a struggle to do so, they said, “He was always concerned about others, and he never complained.” Joe said, “Will was so selfless,” and we all had to pause for a bit. Heather added that one of the things Will was dogmatic about that no matter what day he died on, he wanted his funeral to be the following Saturday, “so that no one would have to take time off from work.” What got to me was that Will took his last chemo treatment, which was especially brutal, and the reason was that he “didn’t want to ruin anyone’s Christmas.” He hung on, got through the holiday, and died in January. “He didn’t have to do that,” Joe and Heather said, “but he did that for us (his family and friends) because that’s just who he was.”
Heather went on to say, “Will was a jokester, and he had an infectious laugh.” In light of this recent Memorial Day, I also want to honor the fact that Will served our country as part of the U.S. Navy, and in my view, could very well be honored as a casualty in a vastly different, but nonetheless deadly global war.
The Haney family, Joe, and others have carefully formed a non-profit organization called the Will Haney Foundation. You can get more information regarding the foundation at www.willhaneyfoundation.org. The purpose is to raise awareness of rhabdomyosarcoma and other cancers, raise funds for research, help families whose loved ones are fighting cancer, and provide scholarships for those choosing nursing as their career or participating in ROTC (because Will was a true patriot). Will was in the middle of getting his nursing degree when cancer cut him down. While the fight was on, “Will’s warriors” wore wrist bands with the words “Will Power” on them, and Will Power is what the Haneys want to strengthen and spread in our area, and beyond. I
If you want to “get in the fight,” then come and join them on July 30th at 7 am. I have a feeling it just might change your life and give you more “Will Power.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner