Let Your Smile Change the World | Story about finding courage after incredible loss by Tom Cowen | Inspiring Story #85 - Daily Inspired Life

Let Your Smile Change the World | Story about finding courage after incredible loss by Tom Cowen | Inspiring Story #85

How do you get up and face each day while coping with incredible loss?  Where can you go, what can you do to draw hope and courage to just keep going?

Be inspired by Tom's story ... 

A long tube arrived, postmarked British Columbia. In it, a black and white poster of a police car lighting the wet road and a man, his mop of curly hair, his legs, one like a tree trunk and the other a steel rod. Words below, Today, we got up at 4:00 AM. As usual, it was tough. Terry Fox, Marathon of Hope, July 13, 1980.

I was in college when I heard about Terry Fox’s run across Canada. He covered a marathon a day, two hops on his left before he swung his right leg, amputated due to bone cancer, to catch up. On September 1st, 3,339 miles and 143 days into his run, Terry stopped just outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario. The next day, he announced that Osteosarcoma had metastasized to his lungs. 

Terry Fox died a year later. 

The Marathon of Hope raised $24.2M that year and has raised $750M to date.  Terry became a Canadian hero, and today his name appears on the Terry Fox Courage Highway, a mountain (Mount Terry Fox), and a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker.

My son, Justin, was also a runner. Built like a runner, Justin was three-way thin viewed from the front, side, or top. He loved baseball and soccer, but I knew he would be a runner when he asked two miles into our first 5k...

            “Dad, can I run ahead?”

            “Sure, just wait at the finish,”

I admired his long stride and strawberry blonde hair, swaying in the wind. At the finish line, my head pounded and felt like it was in an oven. I bent over,

            “I don’t feel good,” I gasped.

Justin’s long fingers rubbed my back in small ovals. I gulped hard and puked,

            “Dad, are you okay?”

I was okay, but Justin wouldn’t be. Two years later, doctors misdiagnosed him and placed a train track of titanium in his fragile neck. Months later, he had a correct diagnosis, Osteosarcoma, and began the same chemo that Fox took forty years earlier.

Justin threw up for weeks on end. I saw the fear in his face as he stumbled to the bathroom. He marked the end of the first week with a sneer, “I don’t need help.” Ahhh, before the splash in the toilet, oooh as if punched in the stomach, followed by the watery-eyed walk to the couch. Day after stinking day.

Justin went into paralysis four separate times.  It was a spring morning, when his legs gave out for the final time, he collapsed on my shoulder and said, "Dad, I can't walk anymore."

I held him tight, "I’ll be your legs."

It was a spring morning, when his legs gave out for the final time, he collapsed on my shoulder and said, "Dad, I can't walk anymore."

“Thanks, Dad.” Only twelve, he thanked everyone, bore the pain, all while helping his brother select a college.

Justin passed away four days after his thirteenth birthday. His favorite teacher recalled Justin’s smile at his memorial, “Let your smile change the world. Don’t let the world change your smile.” Our family remembered his smile and created our 501c3 foundation, Justin’s Smile.

I hobble to the treadmill most mornings and look at Terry’s words, as usual, it was tough, I nod in agreement. 

It was tough for Justin, and continues for me, as I bear unending grief, four years later.

Next, I’ll check how many Justin’s Smile masks were sold overnight.

Knowing the proceeds will help fund an ongoing Osteosarcoma clinical trial and support local children who are pediatric cancer’s next targets.

I’ll do the same tomorrow, inspired to continue to “help kids and their families,” just as Justin requested, just as Terry did.


Meet Tom Cowen & Support the Justin's Smile Foundation...

Born and raised in New York City, Tom Cowen, currently lives in the beautiful New England town of Ridgefield, CT.

He is an above-average sales engineer, retired amateur boxer, and barely serviceable hockey player.  He runs Justin's Smile Childhood Cancer Foundation with his family. 

His work has been published in The Good Men Project. While studying for the Newport MFA at Salve Regina University he is working on his memoir about courage and his incredibly brave son, Justin.

READ ANOTHER STORY | Some people say Charlotte should never have been born, but she had different ideas. An inspiring story for anyone who has ever asked 'why was I born?'  

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Share the Inspiration
  • Probably small comfort to you to know that you and he crossed his finish line together. But whatever love you gave him will come back to you and inspire others too. Keep writing…

  • Sharon says:

    Justin lives on in your writings and all our memories.
    Justin’s Smile keep changing the world.

  • Elle says:

    Wow, what an inspirational story! I am so sorry to read about your loss. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Sarah says:

    What an inspiring story. I am crying now. I know the pain of child loss and I think sharing this story is so beautiful and important.

  • Jenna Lyons says:

    So much love sent your way. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child. No one should have to experience that pain. I feel so much for you. I lost my mom at a young age and through talking with lots of people about loss I gained the ability to look and focus on how much positivity and love I gained from her life and then I learned how to find that love and positivity in others. Not the same at all but it helped. Big hug!

  • Wow… this is beautiful, and now I’m crying. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story.

  • Diane says:

    This was a very powerful piece, Tom. I just can’t imagine the pain of your loss. I appreciate you opening your heart like this.

  • Briana says:

    So beautiful ! I struggle with a lot of loss and the only that kept me going was to keep going and Persue happiness.

  • Cheyenne says:

    Such a beautiful share, and so vulnerable

  • Windy says:

    Very good read! Thank you for sharing!

  • This is just heartbreaking, oh and the more I read…. oh I am so sorry for everything you all went through, continue to stay strong and bring hope to others.

  • Nishtha says:

    Very touching and beautiful story. Thank you for sharing, may be continue to smile and spread his hope and cheer!

  • Melissa says:

    This is devastating, may his smile continue to inspire and change lives. He was incredibly brave.

  • Sonia says:

    This is such a heartbreaking story. I’m amazed of you for being able to share this with the world. Very inspiring. We should all be grateful. So grateful. Health is our power. I’m speechless and pray to God for people like you who are so brave and inspiring to the others despite their tragedies. You definitely sent shivers down my spine.

  • Iris Findlay says:

    Wow, what an incredible and inspiring post! Thank you for sharing this. Definitely something I needed to see.

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