Dillon Collins: When Life Hands You Lemons

What do you do when life hands you lemons? That age-old proverb has been hypothesized since the early 1900s when writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard pondered the adversity of  an actor he was memorializing. 

The answer? You make lemonade. It’s an optimistic slogan used in schools and positivity propaganda to suggest you can, and should, make the best out of a bad situation. Make sweet out of sour, turn a bad hand into a winner.

That’s great in theory, and lovely to put the spring in the step of someone hampered by the blues or a bad case of the Mondays, but for those whose lemons come half scabbed and rotten, and with no sugar in sight for mixing, the words may not hold much merit. 

Bright Eyed Baby Girl 

Well, to say that Nevaeh Denine made lemonade out of a particularly sour batch of lemons would be a shameful understatement. 

Nevaeh turned a crippling negative into a positive as she planted an unselfish idea – tended it with love, devotion and a good smattering of family love and community support – raising a whole field worth of vibrant, colourful and beautifully ripe lemon trees. 

You’ve no doubt heard of Nevaeh and her remarkable story – either directly impacted by friend or family, or as if by some magnificent folklore. 

Born on July 27, 2009 to a loving mother, Holly, and a father (Joey) taken by his own bout of cancer before Nevaeh was born, the bright eyed baby girl was the apple of the family’s eye, gorgeous in every possible way.

As with all storybooks, there’s a twist in the road. At 22 months, Nevaeh was diagnosed with Stage 1 Neuroblastoma. In December 2013, two and a half years after her initial scare had been thwarted, her cancer had returned with a vengeance.  

Rather than let the grim reality of her diagnosis get her down, Nevaeh – showing a maturity far beyond her age – came up with the idea to raise money for children suffering under similar circumstances. 

Consider the selflessness of that idea. Most children (and adults for that matter) would adopt a justified woe-is-me attitude – binge television on the couch, eat popsicles and lament the grim situation. 

No one would blame them. Not for a second. Instead of being consumed by the reality of her illness, Nevaeh and co. created Nevaeh’s Lemonade Stand, a wonderful community initiative that recently celebrated its fifth installment on July 28th and has presently raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for families and children with pediatric cancer in Newfoundland and Labrador. Nevaeh, quite literally, made lemonade out of lemons. 

She celebrated her birthday on July 27th. A day later, she was joined by family and friends, surrounded by a philanthropic marvel that would make Oprah Winfrey blush.

Sharing The Grief 

Ten days later, on August 6th, Nevaeh Denine passed away, finally succumbing to a fight that took up the bulk of her all-too-short life. She was nine years old. 

It’s a blow. We feel it together as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, perhaps selfishly sharing in the grief that should be reserved for the family and closest friends and colleagues.

But that’s what was special about Nevaeh Denine. In coping with her mortality, she made her life larger than herself. Her struggle, sickness, setbacks and stumbles were shared with thousands. So too were her triumphs and brightest moments of clarity and comfort. 

What Nevaeh has done for this province, through love, determination and remarkable bravery, will surely live on through the impact she has made on friends, families and a sea of strangers she has bettered through simple acts of kindness. 

And at the end of the day, isn’t that a legacy worth leaving behind?

When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. Unless you’re Nevaeh Denine, who made so much more.

Dillon Collins, The Herald’s Staff Writer, can be reached by emailing [email protected]

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