As I sit here going through ideas for this post, I feel like the natural flow of things would lead me to tell you about Kayla. After all, she had such a huge part in the making of who I am today.

Kayla was the whitest island girl I’ve ever seen. (I say that with the utmost love!) Her mother married my uncle and he adopted her at a very young age. She grew up with us. All of our family parties and gatherings were held in their backyard. It was in the middle of no where and we could play our music as loud as we wanted and we could dance as long as we wanted. She was a snarky little kid who would call you out if she saw you doing something wrong (this never changed). She was also a daddy’s girl, a lover of horses, a mother of cats, and I watched her grow up to be such a sweet (and slightly spicy) soul. 

It’s weird how the younger generation catches up to mine. I know that I’m older and I know that I’ve matured over the years. But despite the significant age gap, I feel like they just keep catching up and I keep standing still. Kids that once sat on my lap are now adults who hang out with me. Regardless of my adult responsibilities, it’s as if we aren’t so far apart any more. It was like that with Kayla. We were kindred spirits and we just clicked. She became my sidekick we did so much together. I watched her open her heart to people without judgement or hesitation. I watched her forgive when it wasn’t deserved. And I watched her hold me at the lowest point of my life. She had my back like no other and she never thought twice about it.

Things took a turn when Kayla was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 18. I’ll never forget that phone call. But more so than that, I’ll never forget her first surgery to remove part of her colon, when the doctor told us it was already stage 4 and it had spread. I can’t come close to telling you what that was like, but I can tell you that it was the worst pain I had ever felt. I was angry and confused…..unbelievably confused. How could we be getting this bad news when there were so many people praying? People were in church lighting candles! Everyone I know was praying that this surgery would be successful and fix the problem. She was only 18. There was no way that could be her fate! We were shocked to say the least.

Although I can’t remember the exact timelines, she was given a short one to live if she chose not to go through chemo, and I believe about a year or two with chemo. She chose to fight. She took the treatments and she continued to live her life to the fullest. She kept going to school and she kept working as long as she was able. She was so determined and I’ve never seen anyone with so much ambition and drive, regardless of her circumstances. Not only that, but she continued to be so selfless. I’ve never seen anything like it. She could be in the hospital, battling insomnia due to all of her meds, and she would say something like “take care of yourself, you need to get plenty of rest!” I would look at her with bewilderment, as if she was crazy. This girl was fighting for her life yet she was concerned for MY well-being!

I struggled with this…all of this. I fought depression and I kept a straight face for her and the rest of our family. We were all going through it together and we all dealt with it the best way we knew how. I just wanted to be strong for her. We finally had a very emotional talk about the reality of everything. We both cried our eyes out. I didn’t want her to know what I was holding in but she actually felt better knowing that someone else was feeling just as low as she felt and she wasn’t carrying it alone.

Her battled ended on November 2, 2012….just a little over 2 months before she would’ve turned 21. The greatest gift I’ve ever received, was being able to be there…to thank her for everything she had ever done for me…and to tell her how much she meant to me. I held her as she took her last breath in that cancer-ridden body. I held her as her spirit finally found freedom. And as much as I wish she was still here, there is a selfless part of me that is so happy that she doesn’t have to suffer any more. I still miss her every single day. I still have days when I cry so hard that I can’t even breath. But I’ll bear the pain of missing her because I know she is free.

Kayla taught me how to love, how to live, and how to work hard for what I want. She is the reason that I wake up early every day. She’s the reason I don’t complain and she’s the reason I make my days count. I’m so grateful for this life. It gets hard at times. Every day isn’t perfect and sometimes I fail miserably. But that’s all part of being human. The important thing is that we live….we live with every ounce of our souls and we love with every bit of our hearts. We may have down days but the beautiful thing is, we get a re-do with every sunrise. My happiness isn’t in material things or what others think of me. My happiness is in seeing the beauty that surrounds me, helping people when I can, holding on tightly to the people who love me unconditionally, and letting go of anything that isn’t meant to be. I’ve had my share of life lessons but Kayla was my biggest thus far.