Spreading Smiles to Fighters

Lily Wilson, a second grader at Sturgis Elementary School, is a lot like other children in her grade. She loves playing the piano, basketball and softball, she hangs out with her friends and looks out for her three younger brothers. But, unlike any other 8-year-old, Lily has beat cancer and is now giving back to help others who are going through their own battle.

When Lily was 15 months old, her mom Mikayla noticed a lump on her nose. After taking her to their pediatrician, the Wilsons were advised to take Lily to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. There they’d learn the lump on Lily’s nose was something to be worried about: rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that forms in soft tissue. Over the next 11 months, she would have 43 rounds of chemotherapy and a month of proton beam radiation.

It was a scary time for the little family, but they were surrounded with support from family, friends, their community and complete strangers.

“People who didn’t even know us would send cards with gas cards inside,” Mikayla says. “We were so blessed. We knew that once we recovered, we wanted to give back.”

Now, six years cancer free, Lily is making kids smile as they face cancer by delivering books and bears – something that made her smile and she wants to share.

The Cuddle Bears program through Mikayla’s job with Usborne Books & More donates a portion of the proceeds to pediatric cancer research. Lily and Mikayla began reaching out to family and friends and the donations started pouring in. Today, more than 120 Cuddle Bears and books (plus an additional $1500 worth of free books matched by the company) have brought smiles to children in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Denver – each adorned with a special note from Lily that reads: “This book belongs to A Brave Kid. It was donated by Lily Wilson — Survivor. Cancer is no match for you!”

“It makes me happy to make other people smile,” Lily said.

“What makes Lily amazing and inspiring is that she doesn’t let her disease define her,” said DeeKenna Rohde, a family friend. “The first two years my daughters and I knew Lily, we didn’t even know that she had cancer when she was younger.  She’s tough, out-going, confident, and in your face–just like a happy kiddo should be!  When you meet Lily, you don’t think “oh, poor thing”. Instead, she makes you think, ‘Wow! What a kid!’”

“Lily is always thinking of others before herself and it’s a good example for the rest of us to follow in society.” said Mikayla. “It’s a good reminder to always be on the lookout for those in need.”

From sporting events covered with gold attire to a Caps for Cancer fundraiser in the schools where kids, teachers, and administration can wear a cap for a day with a monetary donation, the Wilson Family is making an awareness for pediatric cancer in their community with Lily leading the way.

Words by Jenna Carda
Photos by Jesse Brown Nelson