As we say goodbye to Art, we know where faith has taken him
Over the past three years, I had the privilege of writing about a young man characterized by his enthusiasm, faith and optimism. Art Canning was a Chaney High School valedictorian, a graduate of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and on his way to a promising career with Goldman Sachs in Manhattan. He also had cancer.
On Tuesday, just before 8 p.m., Art passed away -- four days shy of his 26th birthday.
Art fought a valiant battle against Hodgkin's disease, a cancer he sincerely thought he would beat. But at each turn, it tested his faith. The diagnosis of cancer came at age 22.
Hodgkin's is a form of cancer that attacks the lymphatic system and other tissues needed to fight infection. The cause is not known, and only about 30 people in every million develop the disease.
Art endured chemotherapy and radiation. Both failed to eradicate the disease. A stem-cell transplant followed. An injection of his own cells was meant to regrow a healthy immune system -- one able to defeat cancer. It also failed.
Later, in the beginning of 2002, his brother Billy gave some of his bone marrow for another transplant. This, too, was unsuccessful.
Art, nonetheless, inspired his friends and followers in person and via his Web site, www.artcanning.com, posting a journal of his treatments, successes and hopes. Ever the optimist, Art credited his faith with seeing him through.
In July, however, Art and his family received word that there was nothing more that could be done. He continued with chemotherapy to extend whatever life he had left (and, perhaps, because Art was anything but a quitter).
"He had a brief period this fall when he felt good," his cousin Shawnee Donald told me. "He went back to New York to see his friends."
The past couple of months, she said, "were pretty hard." But, "he was Art." Anyone who knew him would understand the comment.
During high school, Art was a member of the Youngstown Connection -- a hand-picked singing group of 12 students from Youngstown high schools who have performed at events from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. After his diagnosis, he went back to the group to give motivational talks.
In the throes of cancer, he wondered how he could get a book published about his experience and faith.
He raised money for others facing disease and its unexpected financial burden, even as he faced his own hardships.
He was Art.
Went to hospital
The son of Diane and Fred Canning, Art was home until the past two weeks. Then he was taken to Forum Health Northside Medical Center under the care of Dr. Kathie Nelson.
"We were kind of hoping he would make it until his birthday," Shawnee said, "but he had a lot of pain. His whole family was with him at the end, and we talked to him. He was on a lot of morphine, but [before he died], he opened his eyes and looked at all of us. I'd like to think he knew we were there."
Art was a study in faith. Like any human faced with such a monumental challenge, he had his doubts. But even being a mere acquaintance, I saw, in our few meetings and phone conversations, and via his Web site, his powerful faith as well. During one of his recovery periods, he wrote on his site: "It's time now to enjoy my health again, relishing it every day, thanking God for the even the smallest things ..."
This, too, is from Art's Web site, written three years ago: "I think the mere mention of death sometimes is a real downer. It shouldn't be. If you know where you are going, then it should be a real upper."
I think we all know where Art is going.
Calling hours are from 4 to 8 p.m. today at Schiavone Funeral Home, 1842 Belmont Ave., Youngstown. Everyone who admired Art is welcome to say their goodbyes.