High school is all about having friends, getting good grades and having fun, but one Bingham High School senior learned through an unexpected tragedy that there is much more to it.
In the midst of all the student dances, club meetings, music lessons and sporting events, Elaine Wilson's mother, Jolene, was diagnosed with lung cancer, and the apparent injustice took everyone, including the social teen, by surprise.
"I definitely took having a mom for granted," Wilson said through tears. She said she wishes she'd learned more from her mom while she was around, instead of worrying about what to wear or what her friends were saying or all the other things that roll around in a 16-year-old's mind.
Wilson said her first year at Bingham was "fine."
Her mother worked at the South Jordan school and they often ran into each other in the halls or in the lunchroom or even in class, as the girl was registered for one of the Utah Education Network courses during the last part of her junior year.
That was all before her mom got sick.
Then, as the reality of serious illness registered, "Going to school got to be way hard," the student said. "Every time I walked past someplace I expected to see her, she wasn't there and it triggered memories of what was going on at home and stuff."
Elaine put having friends and being social, which is what most teens live to do, on the back burner.
"I was more worried about being there for my mom and for everything she was going through," she said. "It was what I had to do."
Soon after the diagnosis, a typical day for Wilson included all the regular studying and running around that high schoolers do, but in addition, she was required to care for her mother at home, get her younger sister ready for school, run errands, do laundry and cook meals for the family, as well as keep track of her mom's medications.
"I really wanted to have a social life, but I knew I couldn't in my situation," she said.
Wilson had to focus on motivating herself to get things done as well as try to maintain the dignity of a normal teenager.
"Emotionally and physically, it was a very difficult for Elaine," said Bingham High School Principal Jo Jolley. Through it all, Jolley said, Wilson maintained a 3.9 grade point average and scored high on the ACT. She has also remained active with the Peer Leadership Team, yearbook staff and basketball team, as manager. In addition, she is involved in church service.
In October 2007, Wilson's mother, who had initially been given a few months to live, passed away. She had fought through an entire year of lung cancer and in so doing had become an inspiration to her daughter.
"I want to remember everything she's taught me because I'm so proud to be her daughter. I'm so proud she fought cancer for a whole year to stay at home and to be my mom," Wilson said. Having gone from thinking "it would all pass" and that her mom would get better, to losing her, the high school senior was forced to grow up fast.
Wilson will attend Brigham Young University-Idaho this fall, hoping to study business and interior design. Jolley said the teen is entirely prepared for what she'll find as she begins a life of her own.
"She knows that to attend college and follow her dream and the dream of her mother, it is entirely up to her," Jolley wrote in a scholarship reference letter. "It will be hard for her to leave her sister, but she knows she must achieve the college degree and is willing to do what she must to accomplish her goal."
Although life as she knew it changed during her junior year, Elaine Wilson is determined to make the most of whatever life throws at her and her family.
"There aren't many kids who have gone through what we have," she said.
The circumstances brought the family closer and she's anxious to see how summer goes. Wilson was able to reinvent her senior year after her mother died, as the experience taught her to rely on family and the things she loved. Approaching her high school graduation, which she knows will be one of the most important and exciting days of her life, Wilson feels that everything she went through only made her stronger and prepared her for what is to come."It's not like I'm grateful for the things that happened," she said. "But I'm grateful for the experiences I have had, and that I have been able to learn from this, and that I'll be able to take what I've learned to college and be a better person, hopefully, because of it."
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