If you find a run on stuffed panda bears in Northeast Ohio, 15-year-old Kayla Nicole Hoover has a beautiful answer about where they’re all going.
Kayla was growing up in Mayfield when doctors found an aggressive brain tumor.
She was 10-years-old.
But from the beginning, Kayla’s positive attitude was contagious.
She fought that brain tumor for 5 years like the little warrior she is.
On February 25, friends, family, and people who just wanted to know Kayla came to her Sweet 16 birthday party in Mayfield.
It was 5 months early, but a perfect opportunity to celebrate this strong, beautiful, courageous and infectiously-kind cancer warrior.
All Kayla wanted was stuffed panda bears.
In typical Kayla Hoover form, they weren’t for her but for other cancer warriors fighting for their lives at Cleveland Clinic Children’s and St. Jude’s Hospital.
“I just love to see them happy,” Kayla says.
We asked her how it felt blowing out the candles on her super-fancy, 3-tower, pink birthday cake.
“It felt good because I knew my wish was coming true,” said Kayla.
If any of her guests could have blown out those candles and had a wish granted, it would be that Kayla would live to see her real 16th birthday in July.
3 surgeries to kick this relentless brain tumor to the curb, and it still has taken such a toll.
Still Kayla and her small army of fans collected hundreds of stuffed panda bears (her favorite) for other sick kids.
A few days later Kayla and her entourage came to Cleveland Clinic Children's to deliver her cache of bears.
It was another love fest with doctors and nurses, and Kayla’s new friends also fighting cancer.
Another celebration of the life Kayla Hoover has lived.
All these birthday parties, and Kayla is the GIFT in so many ways, for so many.
Surrounded by more of her biggest fans, the incomparable Kayla found herself in a sea of donated pandas destined for other cancer warriors in the fight for their lives.
"And that’s all I wanted for my birthday," says Kayla.
And she means it.
She is the real deal.
Genuine compassion is just classic Kayla.
And a heart still, full of
“Thank you to everyone for helping me out with all of this,” Kayla says to her room of admirers who helped haul in the pandas.
“Because I could never have done all of this on my own. Thank you,” she says with her trademark smile.
Kayla, by example, is grateful for right here. Right now.
A teen grateful for the gift that today is, when tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
"Thanks for donating the pandas. I know I will see a bunch of people's faces light up and smile."
Kayla’s mom, Jennifer Radicella, tells us, "It’s because she knows what it’s like to be in the hospital for days at a time."
Along with each panda, comes another gift from Kayla to her new cancer warrior friends, and to ALL of us, when she says, “Just live day by day and make sure you have fun doing it."
It’s hard-earned strength from one cancer warrior to another, when Kayla meets 25-year-old Camlyn Zanardelli and gives her a panda.
Zanardelli had just taken a job in Cleveland from Oklahoma when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
"I know I’m older and these kids who are going through this and they are so much more strong than I am. It's really encouraging to see them so happy and it gives me strength," says Zanardelli.
At the same time, not lost on anyone in the room, was the fact that doctors say Kayla, this inspirational teenage package of sunshine personified is not going to be with us much longer.
But Kayla’s dad, Bob Hoover, has an amazing take on the fight that this warrior fought so valiantly.
"I look through her eyes and that's how I want to live life," says Bob Hoover.
Some will live a whole lifetime, without ever fully understanding the good stuff that comes so easily for 15-year-old Kayla.
Her dad translates what he’s learned from his hero when he says, "Don’t let anything slow you down. Keep going. Give the shirt off your back to the next guy."
The lesson in the legacy that is Kayla Nicole Hoover.
I will never be the same for having met her.
Heaven knows, I won’t ever look at a panda bear the same.