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Bonifay resident talks positivity during times of despair

The untimely death of a beloved teen and senseless homicide of another man adored within the community has made for one heavy week in Holmes County. But Sheila Boswell – no stranger to adversity – strives to spread positivity.

The 58-year-old Bonifay resident has been on a tough road for most of her life as she was born with a rare genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis that has covered her entire body with varying pea and marble-sized benign tumors called neurofibromas. It’s the first thing people notice when seeing her out in public, and the reactions are not always kind.

Now Boswell faces a lymphoma diagnosis.

“This has put me down emotionally, spiritually, financially and I guess it’s just the unknown,” Boswell said. “Then something happens like what happened to Tyler, and it puts it all into real focus. It can’t be all about me.”

Boswell fought tears when referring to the sudden passing of 17-year-old Tyler Erickson Sept. 12, a friendly kid she enjoyed seeing when she and her daughter, 16-year-old Nevaeh Boswell, grocery shopped at the Piggly Wiggly where Erickson worked.

Tyler and Nevaeh bonded over a love of anime, and Boswell was about to ask Tyler to help with tutoring Nevaeh before the news of his passing.

“Everything with the pandemic and what I’m going through now has made me realize how fragile life is. We’re not in control of anything,” Boswell said.

Bonifay lost another friendly face many locals enjoyed seeing when visiting the BP gas station at the main intersection in town. Jimmy McCullous, 53, was gunned down late Saturday night.

With the community in mourning over two lives suddenly lost, Boswell reflects on her own health debacle from a softer perspective.

“I absolutely try not to focus on the negative. There’s a lesson with everything we go through. There is some teaching,” Boswell said. “Maybe if you don’t learn a lesson, learn to value your time more.”

The worst part of Boswell’s lymphoma so far has been dealing with the discomfort of fluid accumulating in her right axillary lymph nodes, something that has required several painful procedures to drain fluid collecting below her right armpit area.

“I’m having to really stay on top of my mental health and think positive because this is a constant thing that won’t go away,” Boswell said. “I can’t lay at night and sleep comfortably. I can’t do anything without pain.”

The cancer itself has her feeling physically rundown most days. On top of living with another condition that dominates her daily life experience, Boswell is determined to keep moving forward.

“I try to stay positive and not even let this be any ‘poor me’ kind of thing,” Boswell said.

In Boswell’s distant history, she would have run to unhealthy coping mechanisms as she did before she became pregnant with her daughter at age 42.

“In the past, something like this would have sent me to drugs,” Boswell said. “Nevaeh saved me.”

It was during her pregnancy that hormonal changes in her body caused the neurofibromatosis to flare and ended her life chapter as an attractive normal looking brunette. Boswell took on the unforgiving disfigurement of her condition and single motherhood at the same time.

“You can see some of what I’m going through visually but some people don’t have any visual signs that they’re carrying a burden,” Boswell said.

On top of living with a condition that altered her appearance and made obtaining life’s necessities a constant struggle – she survives on $861 per month in disability income – Boswell strives to be thankful for the life she does have and can share with her daughter.

“Everything I do and decisions I make play a vital role in decisions she makes,” Boswell said. In the trials and tribulations of everyday life, Boswell strives to see the silver lining.

“I’m not going to let this steal the joy that I have,” she said.

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