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Turning Loss into a Legacy of Hope Through Writing

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Football played a big part in Zack Topper’s life.

The son of my oldest brother, Zack met the young woman who would become his bride at a game while they were both students at Southwestern High School in Hanover, Pennsylvania. Zack—an all-conference, all-league and all-city player—still holds the high school record for the most quarterback sacks in a season and the most in a career. He definitely was hooked on football.

After graduating, Zack attended Shippensburg University to both continue his education and his love of football as a Red Raider. It was during Zack’s junior year that the football team’s physician noticed linebacker number thirty-five having trouble with his coordination and catching. After numerous tests, Zack was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

The news struck doubly hard to the hearts of his family members. Back in 1982, Kimberly Jo Topper, the beautiful red-haired seven-year-old daughter of my next oldest brother, had lost her young life to a brain tumor.  We had been through this before. We understood what this diagnosis could mean for our family.

We were completely devastated.

During the years following his diagnosis, Zack kept a journal describing the rollercoaster ride that was his life. He graduated from college, landed a good job, married, bought a home, traveled, played fantasy football, and enjoyed sunsets.

He also went through proven and new experimental treatments, steroid disfiguration, and three brain surgeries. Following his third surgery, Zack’s health began to steadily decline.

On January 13, 2006, Zack lost his valiant fight to brain cancer at the ripe young age of thirty years old.

Throughout his battle, Zack sought to help comfort and reassure others as they suffered through their own life-threatening diseases. He wanted other cancer patients to know they were not alone in their fear, anger, hope and despair. He provided and received much comfort through sharing his experiences with others.

He understood…and it was all in his journal.

Zack’s journal was recently published as a book titled It Doesn’t Take A Brain Surgeon To Figure Out:  Take Life One Day At A Time. The principles he created to live by—the tools he carried through his journey—are all captured in these pages.

He believed that we are so often future-focused that we do not take the time to enjoy the present. Precious minutes, hours and days go by wasted. He knew that, if we are consumed with worries about tomorrow, it is at the cost of today slipping through our fingers. Regardless of what challenges one may be experiencing, we should each stay focused on the here and now. Observe the world around you and drink in its beauty. This is what Zack learned, and he practiced this religiously.

At a time of incredible sadness and loss, our family has found positive energy in his lasting legacy. This past October, on what would have been Zack’s thirty-first birthday, a five k event was held to develop a sunset family park in his local community. Additionally, the Zachary Topper Memorial Football Scholarship has been established at Shippensburg University. Both projects are for the benefit of others to enjoy-and that is exactly what Zack wanted.

By, Leslie Fox,Zach Topper’s aunt. Photo courtesy of Linda A. Hoover, Ph.D, Zach's mother.

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