Fighting just long enough

A short, determined and inspiring life

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By ROBERT FELTON

Siedah Sivels 1986-2008

"When I came into this world I had to fight-being a 1-pound [premature infant], never giving up, not giving in to my life." So said Oak Park resident Siedah Soreya Sivels in personal testimony.

After battling cancer for almost four years, the 21-year-old succumbed to the disease on March 30. Siedah Sivels' legacy can be found in her poetry and prose. Her writing offers a glimpse into the young woman's devoutly spiritual and unwaveringly optimistic world view.

"I grew older, stronger and greater. God ordered my steps, all 21 years," Sivels said, adding, "At transition, I was a member of New Life Covenant, under the leadership of Wilfredo De Jesus. I was faithful to my church, youth ministry, driven with youth pastors David and Marisol Marrero."

Sivels was deeply involved in the church, even playing the drums in her choir. She was very close to those in her congregation. In the weeks prior to her passing, Sivels attended a four-day workshop titled, "Daily Life of a Master," through the Chicago Master Commissions Program, which trained her in missionary work.

In the spring of 2004, Siedah was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that manifests itself through highly malignant tumors found anywhere on the body. It affects the skeletal and muscle cells. She became aware of her condition when she found a tumor protruding from the knuckles of her left hand.

When doctors recommended her fingers be removed prior to the treatments, Siedah and her parents, Gerald and Dora Sivels, flatly refused. "The doctors told me I had cancer two days before my 18th birthday," Siedah recalled. "They said they wanted to cut off my hands, but I was not having that. I was hurt. I was broke. I didn't want to live. Until I believed God's word, 'with His stripes I'm healed.' I believed that and stood on it."

During the first round of treatments, Dora stayed home to take care of her while Gerald worked as a property manager.

Siedah was often too weak to attend school. Nevertheless, she graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School, doing assignments from home throughout most of her senior year. University of Chicago physicians Dr. Charles Reuben (oncology), Dr. Terrance Peabody (orthopedics) and Dr. Phillip Connell (radiology) began treating Siedah in hopes of removing the tumor and stopping her cancer.

However, it would never completely leave. Siedah would be faced with four more tumors appearing on her arms and leg throughout the next 3½ years.

She mused about her faith and frustration during the trying second round of radiation treatment:

"Boom! Oh no, here we go again for the second time. I couldn't believe it. It came back on my arm. Thank you, God, for bringing it to my attention, even though I didn't want to go through that again."

Despite the newest physical setbacks, Siedah began attending classes at Triton College, majoring in criminal justice. She had hopes of becoming a Judge Advocate General (JAG), a military lawyer.

She was inspired by her favorite television program JAG. In 2005, the non-profit organization Operation Liftoff arranged and financed a trip for Siedah and her parents to travel to Orlando to visit the studio where CBS filmed the series.

While there Siedah was introduced to her favorite actress, Catherine Bell, one of the co-stars of JAG. She had lunch with Bell, who is also a cancer survivor.

One of the elements that typified her life, both in her words and actions was her unshakable hope.

In an interview with Wednesday Journal last December, Siedah Sivels, weakened after going through her fifth round of radiation therapy-following the appearance of a tumor on her leg which forced her to use crutches-said she felt she had already won her fight and left her ultimate fate in the hands of a higher power.

"I feel as though I have won this battle because regardless of what happens from here, my purpose would have been fulfilled," she said.

These words are mirrored in the last lines of her testimony where, despite her physical hardship, she no longer worried about outcomes and simply concentrated on inspiring others.

"I am a five-time miracle. Look what God did," she wrote. "Now I live and try to be the example, like in Timothy 4:12: 'Don't let anyone look down on you because you're young. Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.' I thank God for keeping my heart and mind on him."

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