A Rare Form Of Cancer
Toni was not even yet 30 when she was diagnosed with a rare cancer in her tear gland in 2016. Lacrimal tumors like Toni’s are rare, with around 85 diagnosed in the UK every year. However, when they happen, 55 percent spread quickly like Toni’s and need urgent treatment.
Toni was a single mother of two young children at the time. She only had a couple of years left as she eventually would pass away in 2020. Her time in between was painful, and yet her journey was full of smiles. Even when she had to have her eye removed, she didn’t lose her will to live.
Although she accepted that her early death was inescapable, Toni decided to donate her body to science in the hopes of helping other people who might be suffering from the same disease so they wouldn’t face the same fate.
First Public Dissection
Before Toni lost her battle with cancer at the age of 30, she made it clear that she wanted her body to be used to advance medicine and help whoever she could, so she donated it. That’s how Toni Crews became the first person in the UK to become publicly dissected on television. Toni’s parents struggled with the idea of their daughter’s dissection being televised, but her dad felt like ‘It would be wrong not to follow her wishes.’
The story ended up being televised in the heartbreaking Channel 4 documentary, My Dead Body, which aired in 2022. Viewers were left in tears as UK medical students from Brighton and Sussex Medical School looked into the death of the young mother
The dissection was led by Professor Claire Smith and followed along as students examined the progression of Toni’s cancer through the body. The documentary used the opportunity to tell Toni’s inspiring story to the world. Using AI technology to simulate her voice, excerpts from her diary and social media accounts were read out, saying: ‘I always wanted to be a doctor or a nurse.
‘I was fascinated by the body and science and loved all things to do with biology. I’d love for people to learn from my illness.
Believing In “Peace”
Toni’s memory was honored through the documentary, and her wish to use her fate to help science was granted. Knowing this, Toni says through narration that she has found ‘peace’ with her situation. She didn’t necessarily know what was next for her after death, unsure what to believe in: “I don’t know what I truly believe in,” she says “I don’t believe in a physical heaven or hell, but I believe our energy can live on, and this gives me peace for the future.”
Somewhere out there, Toni’s energy continues to live on. In fact, before her passing, Toni designed her own line of glittery, gem-encrusted eye patches because she couldn’t find any she liked. ‘We found it quite difficult to find attractive eye patches to wear to help boost my confidence.” she explains. She was shipping them all around the world.
Power In Connection
Toni seems to have truly had the capacity to see the light in the darkness. While human beings tend to ruminate over the smallest of inconveniences, Toni’s diagnosis helped her find gratitude for what she still had.
She explained: “It’s been a difficult journey, but I’ve also had the most amazing time reconnecting with my family and friends. I may have lost an eye, but I can see more clearly than ever what’s important in life.”
While it shouldn’t come to having to lose the gift of life to realize what truly matters in life, Toni’s diagnosis put life in perspective and allowed her to ‘reevaluate’ her life. The documentary explains that she realized she had been in an abusive relationship and helped her walk away from it.
After all, life is but a series of choices. While unfortunate events can happen to us, and we have no control over them, we’re always in control of how we choose to respond to them and what we do next.
Encouraging Words To Her Children
Toni impacted the world at large through her donation and public dissection, but it was those closest to her who mourned her the most. Toni left behind two small children who must miss her dearly. In a letter to her two children, Toni she wrote:: “It’s Mummy here. Promise me you’ll always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and twice as beautiful as you ever imagine.”
She reassured her children: “There will be good days and bad days, but remember to be kind and happy. Be grateful and gentle. Mummy will always love you.”
Those who watched the documentary found it “truly touching”, and one viewer related and claimed she hasn’t been able to stop crying since watching ‘As a parent, my biggest fear is leaving my son while he is still so young, [Toni] must have been so scared. “
Toni’s Mark On The Work
Toni may have only gotten to spend 30 years in our world, but she made it every day after. The documentary ends by revealing the incredible impact Toni’s donation has already had on medicine, saying she has taught 800 doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals so far.
Over the next five years, the documentary predicts she will teach 8,000-10,000 more. If you want to see it for yourself, My Dead Body is available to watch.
As for Toni’s parents, Professor Snith went back to visit them and gave them the closure of knowing that after examining the body, the team had found 100 tumors in Toni’s abdomen as her cancer had spread, and insisted there was nothing that could have saved her at that point. Her donation was described as “selfless and remarkable.”
Not Alone In Grief
Toni’s parents, pictured above, still are working through their grief. However, they likely understand that death will eventually come for all of us. It’s impossible not to grieve the ones we love, but stories like this remind us of the impact we can have on the world while we’re still here.
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Aria Misty is a recent university grad. She did her undergrad in media, information & technoculture with a Master in Journalism & Communications in 2018.
Aria has a particular interest in all things astrology and spirituality. This is driven by her desire to create healing. In fact, Aria went back to school for A master’s in counseling p[…]