If Amy Hardy were here, she would tell you not to feel sorry for her. She might even tell you to suck it up, because thats the kind of person Hardy was, friends say. Opinionated. Head-strong, even.
She was beyond strong, said one of her closest friends Chad Gamble. She was a tough girl.
But she could also be extremely loyal and loving, especially to her family and friends, who gathered by the hundreds Saturday at Wings & Ale off Bush River Road. Many of them were a core group of buddies from her Irmo High School days, with Amy, the tough girl, often at the center of what anyone was doing.
The event was part of the bar and grills 3rd Annual Chili Cook Off, held every year to support a local charity. This years event was dedicated to the Palmetto Health Foundation in memory of Hardy, who was just 27 when she found a pea-size cyst under her left arm.
That hard, tiny lump would soon be diagnosed as Stage 4 breast cancer and would lead Hardy through a three-year battle with the disease before ultimately taking her life this past December. She was 31.
She never gave up, Amys mother, Donna Hardy, said through tears Saturday.
Hardy says her daughter wanted people to know what those with cancer went through, which is why she chronicled her struggles from diagnosis to some of her final days on Facebook.
She wanted to tell her story, Hardy said. But Amy did not want pity. Amy did not want people to feel sorry for her.
In fact, the two had a deal. No crying. No tears. At least, not in front of Amy. It was a deal Donna Hardy had a hard time living up to Saturday as people stopped by the restaurants back room to hug and say hello.
Kindness, strength and attitude
A 1999 graduate of Irmo High School and a graduate of Midlands Technical College, Amy had a wide circle of friends some shed known since childhood and some she picked up along the way.
Its really weird how were all connected, said Jen Spreeuwers, who is married to one of Amys closest friends, Andy Spreeuwers.
Amy met Andy at Irmo Middle School along with Chad Gamble, who would later date Amy and become one of her best friends as well.
We were all friends throughout high school, Gamble said.
Though Amys passing is still fresh on everyones minds, Andy Spreeuwers and Gamble helped organize Saturdays event, which included T-shirt sales and a silent auction of nearly 100 donated items.
Her core group of friends, the two say, probably numbered about 30. But Saturday, everywhere you turned, people had a story.
In high school, she had been a cheerleader and later had coached and judged cheerleading competitions. She loved dogs and thought of Mason, Dakota and Lilly as her canine children.
And she liked to have a good time.
If shed had a couple of drinks, she could be philosophical, said Jen Spreeuwers, who has known Amy since daycare.
All were friendships forged at a young age some might say before a person really knows who they are. But not Amy. Amy, they say, always knew exactly who she was.
She lived her life knowing that today is the day and what is beautiful today is what God intended it to be, Jen Spreeuwers said. Thats how she was when we were 3 years old, and she was the exact same way later in life.
Tara Gause, another close friend, said Amy had the perfect amount of kindness and strength and attitude. The two met on the playground.
I fell down, and she asked me if I was OK, she said, laughing.
In a lot of ways, many of her friends said Saturday, it was her attitude that kept her going even in the face of what Jen Spreeuwers, an X-ray technician, said some would take as a death sentence.
Thats because Amys disease started with the worst prognosis a person can receive. A mere month after discovering the lump, Amy learned she had Stage 4 breast cancer. Stage 4 generally means the cancer has spread to other organs or parts of the body. In Amys case, cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
Amy would immediately have a mastectomy and in the months to come would undergo chemotherapy and radiation.
When she started losing her hair, Gamble shaved off the rest for her. He and other friends, along with her father, also would drive Amy to some of her appointments at Duke Medical Centers Cancer Institute in Raleigh, where the doctors and nurses loved her.
They knew her by name, said her mother. And they were amazed at how she documented everything.
Amy wrote everything down, whether online or in a thick journal she would take with her to Duke. She would document the good days and the bad days posting photographs of her mastectomy, scars and all, for all to see.
It helped her to write about it, said Carlos Smith, Amys boyfriend of five years.
Smith met the petite blonde at John Harris Body Shop in Lexington, where Amy worked as a claims adjuster. The two began dating about a year before she was diagnosed. Undeterred by the diagnosis, the couple would move in together months later and build a life around what Smith described as family, friends and dogs.
But the cancer would not leave Amy alone. And even after it had spread to her brain and a team of physicians stood in her hospital room and gave her the news no one ever wants to hear, friends say the former cheerleader who once stood on the sidelines screaming her brains out refused to give up.
On the drive back from Duke after doctors had told her nothing more could be done, Amy asked her father if she was dying.
Not if you want to fight it, said her father, Charles Hardy, a former Marine.
Then Im fighting, Amy said.
Amy would live almost another month long enough to see her favorite time of the year.
She always loved Christmas, said her mother amid her tears.
Too weak to decorate her house, Amy watched as her mother did it for her.
And in her darkest hours, when she was no longer able to speak, friends say she would let them know she was still there. One day, just days before she passed away, Amy sat up in bed and tried to speak. Friends who had gathered by her bedside couldnt understand what she was trying to say.
So she just flipped us all off, said Gause, laughing. Then she got that mischievous grin on her face. Her dad has the same grin.
It was her way of telling us she was still in there, Jen Spreeuwers said. What a mess.
Amy Nichol Hardy died on Christmas Day 2012, with friends, family and the love of her life by her side.
She gave people strength
Her friends say if Amy had a legacy, it might be the way she lived her life. Or the fact that she refused to go down without a fight.
She gave people strength, her mother says. She let people know you can pretty much deal with anything.
Donna Hardy recalls being out at a local restaurant and running into a woman who noticed she was wearing a breast cancer awareness bracelet. The woman struck up a conversation, asking her if she was on Facebook.
She said, Theres this girl on there, and she is phenomenal.
Hardy was proud to tell the woman that girl was her daughter.
Amys legacy also may extend to the network of friends she has left behind, many of whom came together Saturday not only to remember the fun-loving, vivacious girl with the mischievous grin, but to raise money for breast cancer research.
More than 500 people turned out, and a little over $10,000 dollars was raised.
Her friends say they wont soon forget Amy. Signs of their love are everywhere. Many, including Amys mother, bear breast cancer ribbon tattoos, done by Andy Spreeuwers, whos a local tattoo artist.
Jen Spreeuwers said there will never be another like her.
She touched this world in so many places, she said.
Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.