Kylie Myers, a 12-year-old girl and theater buff with an infectious smile, made her Broadway debut last night. It wasn't the part she or her parents had originally envisioned—Kylie's first New York City performance was supposed to be a walk-on role in Aladdin. But before she could perform, Kylie, who had Ewing's sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, died on February 13th, just days shy of her 13th birthday.
Mark and Robin Myers watch their daughter Kylie light up a billboard and important message about childhood cancer in Times Square.
Now, Kylie, or Smiley Kylie as she was known to those who loved her, is playing a much bigger part: a starring role in a short film produced by The Truth 365 of the Arms Wide Open Childhood Cancer Foundation (AWOCCF). The public service announcement, titled "Get Wind of This," encourages others to join the fight against childhood cancer, the leading cause of death by disease for U.S. children. In spite of that, as Parents reported in this story in our November 2014 issue, little more than 4 percent of the National Cancer Institute's annual budget goes toward childhood cancer. One thing that rankles parents in the childhood-cancer community: the idea that pediatric cancer is "rare." In fact, at 1:17 in the video, you can see Kylie's best friend and cancer survivor Bailey Moody, playing guitar and wearing a headband. Bailey and Kylie were in the same small class together in school in Georgia.
Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting Kylie's parents, Mark and Robin Myers, who traveled with Kylie's big sisters, Meredith, Kendall, and Jenna, from Atlanta to all watch Kylie's Broadway debut, her PSA on repeat on a giant Times Square billboard.
"We always called her Smiley Kylie. Even as a baby she was always very smiley," Robin told me. "So when she was diagnosed, Mark kind of came up with this idea. He said, 'This is going to be really hard, so let's try to get other people to smile for her when she can't smile for herself.' So we started out with her friends, and they would take selfies and post them. Then we did smiles from vacations, and then we said let's try to get all 50 states and we did, in like three days.
"And Kylie: Her 'thing' was theater. She loved to sing and be on stage. She didn't listen to popular music, she listened to showtunes. So we thought hey, wouldn't it be fun if we tried to get some Broadway smiles and just see what happens? And we didn't have connections with any shows—it wasn't like we knew anybody—and within days, they just started pouring in. There were 12 musicals nominated for Tonys last year—we got smiles from nine of them. They would take them backstage and they would send them to us. Kristin Chenoweth did one. Idina Menzel did a video for Kylie. It was huge. Kylie would just scroll through them in the hospital.
"We've changed a lot, forever, in a lot of ways, but one of the ways is my awareness of the beautiful things strangers did. We were very loved by our church and our school and our community. But the shocking thing to me was all the people who don't know Kylie who did kind things like that. I mean all these shows, all these Broadway actors did that. And I can't tell you how much joy it brought her. All of her favorite shows sent her smiles. There was a guy in Pennsylvania—he was a jeweler, we don't know him—and he made Kylie a piece of jewelry that was a smile. People that we don't know who just did these incredible random acts of kindness.... I've never experienced anything like it. It was overwhelming, just the kindness of people we don't know, that have no connection to us, but who just wanted to do something lovely. And I know cases of childhood cancer touch people's hearts, if they know about it. And more people would care, if they just knew."
The rain couldn't keep away fellow parents in the cancer community who came out to support the Myers family, including Matt and Nicole Kabel whose little Sally ("Sweet Sally Sunshine"), 2 1/2, is battling infant leukemia (and was truly sweet and sunshine in her father's arms, the glow of Times Square no contest compared to her blond adorableness); "Tattoo Tom" Mitchell, who came up from Virginia and will be running a 200-mile (two hundred!) ultramarathon in Lake Tahoe next September to raise funds for the organization Stillbrave that he began in memory of his teenage daughter, Shayla; Dena Sherwood, who with her husband Billy founded the AWOCCF after their son Billy Jr. was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma; and mom and advocate Andrea Verdone, whose daughter Natalie's battle against leukemia was featured in this story in Parents and whose donate-a-dollar project you can read more about here on Andrea and husband Dan's site.
For the Myers family, advocating for more funds, research, and better treatments for childhood cancer has become a family mission. Mark will be speaking in Washington D.C. at CureFest for Childhood Cancer in September.
As Kylie told her parents, "If I have to die from childhood cancer, childhood cancer should die, too."