Hamilton cancer patient teaches parents life lesson: Live every day to the fullest

“Remember, tomorrow is promised to no one.” — Walter Payton, Hall of Famer Chicago Bears running back who died in 1999 when he was 45.

No one understands those words better than parents of terminally ill children.

Sure all parents worry about their children until they’re safely tucked in their beds, but those whose children face the long odds of beating deadly diseases never get a restful night of sleep.

Just ask Gary and Melissa Short. If you don’t know them, you’ve probably heard of their daughter, Naomi Short. Now 9, the Hamilton girl was diagnosed last year with a rare form of brain cancer, and because of her spunky personality, people gravitate toward her.

Naomi has been deputized by Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones, honored at a Hamilton City Council meeting where she proclaimed herself mayor, rode a white horse decorated as a unicorn during a surprise visit at a Hamilton fire station, been featured on CBS Evening News, and, since Thanksgiving, has traveled around the United States with her parents in a pull behind camper, a gift from the Make A Wish Foundation.

The Shorts have seen more in six weeks than some people experience in a lifetime. They have been awed by the Grand Canyon, Hollywood sign and bright lights on the Las Vegas strip. They have window-shopped along Rodeo Drive, taken photos of their favorite celebrities on the Walk of Fame and toured every Disney property in Orlando for the past week.

Naomi, who uses a wheelchair after losing her ability to walk, has suffered one medical emergency. She had a severe seizure in Los Angeles and was flown to the UCLA Health. She was released the next day.

While in Orlando, they have stayed free in a two-story, seven-bedroom, five-bathroom house that also features a swimming pool, game room and movie theater. While there, Naomi was visited by Belle, her favorite character from Beauty and the Beast.

“We’re doing her whole bucket list,” her father said.

“No one wants to come home,” her mother said.

While all this sounds wonderful, eventually they will pack their suitcases with dirty clothes, amusement park souvenirs and a lifetime of memories. And when they return to Hamilton this week, Naomi will still have cancer and require a wheelchair.

She has lost her hair due to cancer treatments that also have aged her facial appearance, her father said.

That’s something not even Walt Disney and his “magical kingdom” can correct.

It would be easy then for the Shorts to feel sorry for themselves. Be bitter at the world. Close their curtains to the outside world.

But instead, they keep living because, well, tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

“We live day by day and worry about that day instead of what’s happening next month,” Gary Short, 42, said during a phone conversation from Magic Kingdom. “She’s the strongest warrior I’ve ever meet. She’s in so much pain some days that she talks about going to heaven. I refuse to think what’s coming next.”

Melissa Short, 35, has said Naomi’s survival rate is 30 percent. She doesn’t consider the other 70 percent.

“When I find myself thinking along those lines, I try to quickly get distracted,” she said. “Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. We’re all gonna leave this earth. Maybe cancer, maybe a car accident. However God decides to take her home. If I allow myself to think that way, I’d drive myself crazy. Right now I just want to enjoy....”

Her voice trailed off.

It was time for the conversation to end.

They had parks to visit. They had a life to live.

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