Haylee Ann Lewis, a junior at Portage Northern High School, passed away after a nine month battle with glioblastoma on Thursday, April 13th. News of Haylee passing away came suddenly, but the impact she has left in the community will always be cherished.
From Haylee’s first experiences with cancer at just 9 years old, the future seemed uncertain and harrowing. However, when doctor’s announced that Haylee’s childhood cancer could be put into remission, she and her family were ecstatic. Although her hardships helped her emerge as a warrior and a survivor of leukemia, the wars she fought in the hospital took away from her time to enjoy her childhood to the fullest. In the time after her defeat of leukemia, Haylee and her family strived to make each day special, and it was outside the hospital walls where she flourished. Haylee participated in basketball at Portage North Middle School and had aspirations of becoming a veterinarian because of her love of animals. A country girl at heart, she was a lover of country music and camo, and the camo jacket that she wore often to school is fondly remembered by students and staff. Even after her junior-year cancer diagnosis, she was employed at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels to keep herself active and experience as many facets of ‘normal’ teenage life as possible. She was, however, not just a normal teenager, she was a determined and irreplaceable daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, and student.
Two of Haylee’s close friends, Kalyn Koningsberg (11) and Jessica Wittenberg (11), smile while remembering Haylee because of the fun person she always was. “She was sassy and caring,” Koningsburg says. The girls loved hanging out and would spend time with Haylee at home when she wasn’t feeling well and take her out, especially to her favorite food place, Taco Bell, when she was feeling up to it. “She always made everybody laugh,” Wittenberg adds. “I can’t even remember a time when we were together when we weren’t laughing about something.”
Haylee never let obstacles impede on her aspirations and for her, and her future always looked bright. “Although she was fighting cancer all school year, Haylee just wanted to be like everyone else her age,” says Kristin Everts, who has worked with Haylee since freshman year. “She especially enjoyed rolling her eyes at me! She was sweet, sassy, determined, loving, and funny. She loved country music, mud bogging, Disney’s Stitch, her friends, and her family. She was ecstatic when she got to meet Kane Brown this year. Recently, Haylee shared feelings of being blessed with so much, while others had so little, that she decided she wanted to start helping others. I will always remember her compassion and determination.”
Haylee’s history teacher Greathen Derenne says, “I was so impressed with Haylee’s work ethic this year and desire to keep her grades up despite what was happening in her life. We can all learn from Haylee’s positive attitude and determination in the face of terrible circumstances.”
School was always a priority for Haylee, and she was determined to earn as many credits as possible and stay on track to graduate. After every absence, she would email Everts and find out her missing work. The day before school dismissed for Spring Break, she came in and spent considerable time getting all caught up in her foods class to get her quarter 3 grade in line. Her teacher, Emily Anthony, says, “Haylee should be an inspiration to all students. Her dedication and work ethic was very admirable. She was straight business and completely focused the day she came in to work on her assignments before Spring Break to get her grade up. Besides pushing herself to do her best, Haylee was also always such a kind and respectful young lady! She will be greatly missed.”
Despite the fact that Haylee’s battle with cancer was her own, she was always thinking about other kids who were in the same situation. She had many pictures of her childhood friends Caitlyn and Kaiden, neither of whom survived their cancers. She also reflected on cancer in her poetry in her 10th and 11th grade English classes, writing lines in poems like, “I cry when other children die from cancer,” and “You would know me if/you knew how hard it was to fight cancer/you knew how I sometimes feel that I’m alone/you knew how much I care about other sick kids.” Her and her family are avid supporters of childhood cancer research and supported other cancer families and community organizations even while Haylee was fighting cancer herself.
Although she was taken too soon, the only way to fill the space she has left is to honor what a compassionate and optimistic person she truly was. The family will receive friends on Monday the 17th from 4-7pm at the Life Story Funeral Home, 5975 Lovers Lane, Portage (269-344-5600). A funeral service will be held on Tuesday the 18th at 1 pm at the funeral home. Visitors are asked to wear Haylee’s favorites: green, camo, or anything with Stitch (from Lilo and Stitch) on it. A luncheon will follow at Valley Family Church on Oakland and Vincent.
Portage Northern HS will be hosting a fundraiser at lunch this week to benefit the family. Students will also have the opportunity to send messages to the family on orange cardstock ribbons (the color of the leukemia awareness ribbon) and the whole school is encouraged to wear orange on Friday.
Haylee’s organization, called Haylee’s Hope, will continue to fight childhood cancer by raising awareness and supporting local families through organizations like DC Strong and Cancer Families United. To join the movement or for updates and information from her family, visit https://www.facebook.com/hayleeshope/
To add any fond memories or moments with Haylee, visit https://www.lifestorynet.com/obituaries/haylee-lewis.116561