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Big smile, inner strength

Forest Grove sophomore succumbs to cancer, rocks memorial service


StricklandShannon Strickland, a Forest Grove High School student who died last month at the age of 16, will be remembered by her family and friends for her joyful spirit, tireless energy, constant smile and much more.

Shannon, who completed her sophomore year in the spring, died Aug. 28 after a three-year battle with cancer. More than 300 family members, church members and friends gathered Sunday for a memorial service to honor her and her legacy.

“It was a beautiful memorial for Shannon,” said FGHS Assistant Principal Tami Erion. “She touched many lives. ... There were people [at the high school] who watched her daily and admired her tenacity and determination. She certainly didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her and she made that well known.”

Shanon’s mother, Coral Strickland, described her as a young woman with “an inner strength and wisdom far beyond her years,” who loved to read, tap dance, garden and play the violin, and who dreamed of one day being a writer and raising money for children’s cancer research.

“I think she will be remembered most for her ‘never give up’ spirit and her infectious joy of life,” she said. “She never let her cancer define her or prevent her from accomplishing the goals she set for herself.”

Shannon overcame incredible odds her entire life — beginning with her birth. Born prematurely at 30 weeks, she measured only 13 inches in length and weighed less than 2 pounds.

“Shannon had the most amazing genuineness about her. She never tried to be anything other than herself,” Coral Strickland said. “She was bubbly, affectionate, creative and loved to laugh. She was joyous!”

Duane Anderson, chairman of the high school counseling department, met Shannon years ago — when he coached her in Little League softball.

“I can still see her big smile as she stood on first base following a hit,” he recalled. “She took it all in, the fears and the joys.”

Upon reconnecting with Shannon in high school, Anderson saw that her disease — which caused her to miss her entire eighth-grade year and forced her to use a wheelchair in high school — hadn’t changed her personality or outlook on life one bit.

“She hadn’t lost her spirit,” he said. “In her two years as a Viking, she took in the whole experience, and she loved being here. She certainly faced her fears daily, but she was quick to flash that big smile, slap hands and go about her day.”

Shannon’s memorial service was held at the Oregon Buddhist Center in Lake Oswego — a local branch of SGI-USA, which is a lay organization of practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism that Shannon and her parents adhered to. Strickland said her daughter’s faith was important to her and she was active in the church’s youth group.

“As a parent, her physical death has left an immense space in our daily lives,” she said. “But we know that her life force has once again become part of the fabric of the universal life around us, and is just waiting for the right moment to once again manifest in the physical world, so she can continue to fill another lifetime’s mission of hope in the face of life’s challenges.”

Memorial contributions may be made to the FGHS music program or Camp Ukandu, an American Cancer Society-sponsored summer camp experience for children living with cancer.



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