(Written by her dad)
There are many words to describe our sweet Keesha - smart, courageous, funny, loyal, compassionate, lovable, considerate, sincere - but the one word that we hear most often - when friends and family share their thoughts about her - is, “SWEET!” Susan and I agree with everyone. She was the sweetest daughter a parent could ever ask for. Keesha was one of those rare people that saw good in everyone that crossed her path. I love how one of her close friends described her after her death, “she was the purest soul I’ve ever known..”
Keesha was born in 1983 in Charlotte, North Carolina. In my mind, she will always be that lovable, snow-white-blond little girl, who always had a hug for everyone…. She was perhaps happiest when her little brother Kevin was born in 1987… and took her role as big sister very seriously.
While playing in the concert band at Appling Middle School, she found a love of music that would follow her for the rest of her life. Even at that young age, her friendships were deep - and built on unconditional love. Some of those friends are now involved in this nonprofit.
She graduated from Evangelical Christian School in 2001 and marched in the high school band. The ECS band typically won every contest they entered - and often were named grand champion. Based on their success, they were invited to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin - and in the Disney World Parade. I remember her saying, “People may call us band nerds - but we have fun whether the football team wins or not!”
She used this experience to land a music scholarship at the University of Memphis. She was so proud to march with the "Mighty Sound of the South" Tiger Marching Band. It was in the band that she made several lifelong friends…. As I read the tributes posted to her Facebook wall since her death, I realized just how special they thought she was…. Here is one example: “I remember the way she smiled from the outside in - and how much she loved us… She was one of my best friends in the world - actually more like a sister…. I feel grateful that God put us together - sorta like peanut butter and jelly. She’s taught me SO many things. She taught me courage and strength and kindness and compassion and patience. She was a total ‘goob,’ but that’s what made her laugh so infectious.”
Although she was never blessed with children, she claimed hundreds of children as her own as a daycare teacher. In fact, two girls came to visit her just before she died. They had been to our house many times over the four years she was sick. They are now 9 and 11 but STILL loved her - and prayed for her daily. And they called her, “Ms. Keesha… the best teacher I ever had!”
In 2013, at the young age of 30, she was diagnosed with Stage-4 metastatic breast cancer. It was a complete shock that someone so young could have this disease. It was not anything that you expect for someone so young.
While she was in the battle for her life, we did not spend a lot of time looking back. But we did eventually have a conversation about the catalyst of her cancer. She shared with her mom that she had not been to the gynecologist, and said she assumed that going to the regular M.D. was enough since she was not sexually active. She said, "I am not sexually active - so did not see the reason to go." The reality is - it was the most important visit a woman can keep. Looking back, many of her health issues were diagnosed incorrectly - as the cancer was already active.
One day, early in her battle with cancer, she bought a little sign for her room. It read, “Blessed!” She said, “I know it does not make any sense, but I am just so blessed to be alive.” Keesha taught us all how to be thankful for the little things and grateful for the big ones…. and to live life like there may not be a tomorrow!
As a daughter, she defined love and grace. Her relationship with her mom was not typical… It was more of a deep friendship. During her sickness, I loved sitting in the living room listening to them share life together - talking about makeup or Luke Bryan or whatever was the important topic of the day.
Words cannot articulate how much of a fighter she was over those four years… She WAS the Warrior Princess. She had the grace of a princess and the fight of a warrior. But through it all, she DEFINED the word FIGHTER. Her attitude was, “I may not be able to beat this, but I am going to fight it for as long as possible!” I remember one time while taking a particularly nasty chemo, she had been throwing up for about 15 minutes straight. She sat back in the chair, wiped off her mouth, and said, “Well that was better on the outside than on the inside!” That was her - always positive, always fighting… She WAS the warrior princess!
Throughout her illness, I asked her if she wanted me to stop writing about her life on Facebook. She said no - and told me, “please tell others not to make the mistakes I made…” She also talked to all of her friends about the need to do two key things - both the focus of our mission - to “go to the gynecologist - and know your body and pay attention to the warning signs.”
Keesha was also a person of faith - and would not want us to hide that or not share that story also. Once she was diagnosed at Stage-4 - she knew how sick she was.... But she never gave up - and her "live-life-out-loud" story even created another hashtag among fiends: #LiveLikeKeesha
We are very proud to share her story and our story - so others don't have to experience the pain we have - and to inspire others to live life to the fullest!