EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Lacey Holsworth did not stop smiling until cancer took her life.
At an emotional celebration of her legacy, about 2,500 people saw a great grin pushing up Lacey’s cute cheeks countless times during a moving 43-minute video that ended the memorial ceremony for her at Michigan State on Thursday night.
The 8-year-old girl, whose battle with nerve-cell cancer inspired the Spartans’ basketball program and strangers who followed her story, died April 8 in the arms of her mother and father at their home in nearby St. Johns.
Lacey’s family wanted those attending the event at the Breslin Center — where she cheered on her favorite team — to wear bright colors.
And many did.
Many also wiped away tears, especially when they heard Heather Holsworth’s recorded message about her daughter while pictures of Lacey were shown on video boards.
“I can’t wait to see you again, save a dance for me,” she said at the end of the message.
The little girl affectionately known as “Princess Lacey” had neuroblastoma. She wore a blond wig because chemotherapy took her hair, but her family let the public see her bald and beautiful during a video montage.
A picture of her blowing a kiss was shown on video boards as Michigan State star Adreian Payne, who befriended Lacey during one of her hospital stays, led the family off the covered court after the 1-hour, 40-minute ceremony.
As people started to file out of the arena, some started to clap, but few followed suit because it was a somber occasion even though it was intended to be joyous.
Back pain while dancing in 2011 led to the discovery of a football-sized tumor that had engulfed Lacey’s kidney. After another tumor wrapped around her spine, her father had to carry her into a hospital on Dec. 28, 2011. Lacey lost feeling below her belly button and couldn’t walk on her own for several months, a long stretch that included the first of many visits from Payne.
The senior forward did not address the crowd live, but did have a recorded message played as part of a video featuring Lacey and people such as former Spartan great and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
“Lacey, we love you,” Payne said.
He wasn’t alone.
Travis Trice, a junior guard, represented the team on a raised stage.
“Her smile would change your day and have an impact on you,” Trice said.
Jeff Perryman found that out when he met her in a hospital.
An agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Perryman heard about Lacey’s battle with cancer and reached out to her parents, offering to visit with his dog, Ike.
Perryman recalled giving himself a pep talk before facing what he expected to be a sad girl, only to discover she lit up her hospital room with her smile. He became close enough to the family that he was asked to be the master of ceremonies at her celebration.
“We’re here to celebrate an incredibly unique life of this beautiful little girl named Lacey,” he said.
Perhaps the most powerful portion of the emotion-filled evening was when Heather Holsworth’s voice was heard in her recorded tribute.
“My heart hurts so much I can barely breathe,” she said.
Holsworth went on to describe her daughter as “shy, yet outgoing,” and a “tomboy with a tutu,” that had “a mixture of grace and grit.”
“Lacey never feared the future because there was nothing to be afraid of,” Holsworth said. “She had hope that never died.
“We will take you in our hearts until we can see you and hold you again.”
Her dance teacher, Heather Reed, later danced to a song — “I Do Believe in Fairies” — that Lacey was scheduled to perform to at a recital. Michigan State student Alex Everard read some of the poems he wrote for and shared with Lacey during the last week of her life. Payne did a “moment of silence dunk” surrounded by teammates.
“She had such an impact on everybody as you can see based on the turnout,” Trice said. “She had a way of bringing everybody together.”
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