Cancer claims Courtney Short: Miami community grieves, remembers
They sit side-by-side on the piano bench. Hannah watches Courtney's hands dance over the keys, small but strong, determined to find each note. Courtney opens her mouth and the words echo through the empty house.
"Think of me, think of me fondly when we've said goodbye. Remember me once in a while, please promise me you'll try."
Senior Hannah Harp relived the memory of her friend Courtney Short, a Miami student who died March 28, less than a year after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.
"We were both infatuated with 'Phantom of the Opera,'" Harp said. "She would play 'Think of Me' and we would take turns singing the different parts."
The 22-year-old from Zanesville, Ohio was survived by parents Philip and Kathryn, and siblings Trevor, Kelsey and Lindsey Short.
It was during spring break her junior year in 2013 she noticed her abdomen bloating.
"We never really got a clear diagnosis," her sister, Miami first-year Lindsey Short, said. "The official diagnosis at the time in April was stage four adenocarcinoma of unknown primary origin, but it was likely to be stemming from ovarian cancer."
Lindsey said in the end her sister's diagnosis is not what is important, the only thing that matters is that people saw her for who she was.
Courtney Short was quirky.
"Courtney was very obsessed with her makeup and it always had to be perfect at that point in her life," said Melissa Baker, Courtney's childhood friend from youth group. "She had like five different kinds of mascara that she would apply all to make her eyelashes look perfect. And they always did."
Courtney was not afraid to be different, Baker explained. She loved shopping like most girls her age, but she stood out among her friends as the gamer girl, spending hours playing Zelda and Skyrim.
"Courtney was easy to poke fun at because she was such an original girl," Baker said with a chuckle. "Anyone who knew her knew that."
It was not until Courtney became sick that she and Baker reconnected.
"That's when I really got to know Courtney the best," she said. "I would not trade these past six months for anything. I learned how deep of a person Courtney was and how passionate she was about anything and everything she did."
Courtney Short was passionate.
She went out of her way to educate herself about anything and everything. Her passion showed itself early on in the form of an obsession with real estate.
"Ever since she was little she had been looking at house floor plans and building mansions in The Sims. It had been a lifelong thing." Lindsey said. "She would just constantly send me pictures of these mansions she would find... she really loved Mediterranean-style."
It was Courtney's love for real estate that led her to meet professor Kimberly Hamlin to discuss the possibility of declaring her major in American studies.
"I was really kind of impressed with her evolution as a student," Hamlin said. "A lot of students start off being able to summarize but not really analyze and think deep thoughts about things, and Courtney I could watch grow and blossom from accepting everything to starting to critically think and come up with her own interpretations and ideas."
Looking back, Hamlin realized Courtney's passion lay not only in real estate.
"I don't think that her interest in learning was totally career-driven, I think it was truly a love of learning," Hamlin said. "She definitely had goals and aspirations career-wise, but I think she also just loved being at college and just loved learning."
This love didn't waver when Courtney became sick. Rather, she began learning as much as possible about her illness.
"When she found out what type of surgery she was going to get when she got cancer she looked it up... that kind of thing would scare a lot of people, a lot of people would want to stay ignorant," Harp said. "But no, Courtney Short looked it up online and watched a 10 minute video of a person open on a table just so she knew what was coming her way."
Courtney Short was brave.
In more ways than one, Courtney faced what others feared and pressed on. Her friends repeatedly mentioned her social fearlessness; Courtney offered the truth when others shied away from it.
"She was always a very blunt, straight-forward person; you could always count on her to tell you like it is," Harp said. "All of her friends could tell you that. No matter who you were she would tell you what she was thinking."
And when it came time for Courtney to face a hard truth of her own, she refused to let it condemn her. For her, it was not a matter of if she was coming back to school, it was a matter of when. Without even realizing it, her bravery left a mark on others.
"She has seriously taught so many people, including people twice or three times her age, how to stare fear in the face. Even throughout the past year she really did try to live as much as possible," Harp said. "Besides having to come home from Miami, she really did not let this get in her way."
Courtney Short loved being here.
"She really, really loved Miami," Lindsey said, mentioning it was her sister's excitement about the university that encouraged her to apply. "She was just so excited for me to get there... she had even started making grocery shopping lists because she was going to have me come over every Sunday morning for breakfast."
It was a love of the campus and atmosphere that drew Courtney in. And it was a love for the people she met at Miami that kept her doing everything she could to come back.
"I spent a week with her before classes started, and she was just so, so happy to be back in Oxford," Lindsey said. "I just remember we were sitting in the hallway waiting for one of her friends to come pick her up because it was too far for her to walk, and she just sat out in the hallway and started crying about how happy she was to be back."
Though disappointed when she ultimately had to withdraw from the university, Courtney kept positive with the help of friends and family who came from all over to see her. Even then, her only concern seemed to be for those who were worried about her.
The music drifts down the hall, climbing each stair and wrapping around every corner to fill the space. The only thing in the world at that moment is the two of them, Hannah and Courtney at the piano. The song comes to a close and her final words hang in the air.
"Flowers fade, the fruits of summer fade. They have their seasons, so do we. But please, promise me that sometimes you will think of me."
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