In April of my junior year of high school, I was a midfielder for my high school lacrosse team.
For our cancer awareness game, Coach Dan Kaplan informed us that a 10-year-old named Lily Anderson, who was currently battling cancer, would be singing our national anthem. Little did I know, this girl would end up making a permanent impact on my life.
After Lily sang the national anthem, she sat on the bench of our sideline throughout the game. I remember it was baking hot and the sun was beating down. I had been knocked around a couple times and when I came off the field, I was drenched in sweat and looked pretty rough.
Although I sat down next to Lily, I was intimidated to speak to her. For some reason, I assumed a little girl battling cancer would be somewhat timid or fragile…Boy was I wrong. Lily looked me right in the face and said “Holy COW you are SOO sweaty!!!!”
I busted out laughing and was completely sold from that moment on. Lily was absolutely hilarious from the get-go and said whatever was on her mind. I really appreciated this because I am the exact same way.
As our season went on, our team “adopted” Lily as an honorary teammate. We all viewed her as a baby sister and I constantly thought about how awesome it would be to see her play lacrosse one day.
Her favorite colors were lime green and bright pink so of course, our team began to wear lime green and pink in any way possible to show her our support. I remember us all putting pink and green tape on our sticks, ribbons in our hair and shoelaces in our cleats in order to be “Lily-styled.”
We loved Lily and her spunk so much and I began to think about her bravery and strength whenever I wanted to quit or give up on a ball or cheat my way in a sprint during practice. Lily motivated me to push myself further. In the winter of my senior year in high school, Lily became very sick.
By this time, she was 11 years old and our team was fully in love with her. I remember one night, Mrs. Jennifer Anderson, Lily’s mom, was gracious enough to let us come visit Lily at her house. You can imagine an entire team of high school girls crammed in a living room with Lily in the center keeping us all entertained.
I know at her age, I was petrified to even look someone in the eye. But Lily wasn’t shy at all and we hung out with this spunky little 11-year-old, who had the most contagious laugh, until it was dark out and time to go. I don’t even think it was a week later that I woke up to a message in the team’s group chat. Lily had passed away in the night.
Dread washed over me. I ran upstairs to my parents and I guess they already knew because they just grabbed me in a group hug while I cried. I remember saying over and over “This isn’t fair. This shouldn’t be happening to kids like Lily. Why do I get to be a normal teenager and Lily doesn’t?”
I remember later that day, I had an award ceremony at my high school for something irrelevant. I wore pink and green for Lily and could barely keep tears from springing up. My teammates, Marisa and Dakota, were there, and when we saw each other, we collided in a group hug and let the tears run freely.
We agreed that we were going to make the upcoming season all about playing our hearts out for Lily. By the time the season started, Coach Kaplan had decided that we would use our #11 jersey to honor Lily since she was 11 years old.
Each week, he picked someone to wear the jersey and a recording of Lily’s voice sang our national anthem before each game. I can still remember listening to it on the field and getting chills.
In addition to this, Lily’s mom and little sister, Audrey, came to all of our games. Just a side note here: Mrs. Jennifer Anderson is quite possibly the strongest and sweetest woman in the entire universe and is the best hugger EVER!
And of course, we were always all sporting some kind of lime green and pink attire. It was simply a must that we all be stylish. It’s what Lily would have wanted. Our motto for the season was “LILYSTRONG” and we strived to embody her character in the way we played.
The really amazing thing about Lily is the way she turned my team into a family. Throughout my senior season, I noticed so many changes in West Forsyth’s Women’s Lacrosse Team.
We stopped yelling at each other when frustrated. Instead, I watched my teammates pick each other up and say “It’s okay. We’ll get ‘em next time.” I heard team chants change from “Let’s Win!” to “Let’s Do It For Lily!”
I noticed myself caring less and less about the numbers on the scoreboard and more about the teammates sharing the field with me and how I’d do anything for them. Whoever said sports bring people together might be right.
At the end of the day, the scoreboard will never really matter. Sports are, after all, just a game. What really matters is playing with heart and enjoying the moment you’re in surrounded by parents, coaches, and friends that you love.
People that are truly inspirational don’t have to try to inspire people. Lily didn’t try to influence us, yet she changed our lives. We all wanted to be just like her. She was and still is our hero.
For our cancer awareness game of senior season, Coach Kaplan surprised us with PINK uniforms to wear in honor of Lily. And I’m not talkin’ our regular navy uniforms with a pink number. These things were cotton candy pink from head to toe.
We were anxious all day because the weather looked awful and it was supposed to pour. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to honor Lily in this special way. But when game time rolled around, it still hadn’t rained.
We lined up on the field and listened to Lily’s voice sing our national anthem and the strangest thing happened. A breeze swept across the field and the clouds started to drift away. It was almost as if Lily herself told Mother Nature to back off for a couple hours.
I don’t remember who we played in that game or if I even scored. Memory is a funny thing. Irrelevant details like that are forgotten. But I do know we won that game and were all so excited that we had the chance to make Lily proud.
I wondered if Lily could see us and if she was proud of us. After the game, while we were down on the field and all the parents were snapping pictures of us, one of the moms froze in her tracks and looked at us all. “You guys…” she said, “It’s the 11th day of the month.”
We looked at each other in shock. Lucky number 11. Then another person said, “Oh my gosh…We scored 11 goals in this game! Lily’s number again!” I got chills. We were stunned. One of my teammate’s jaw dropped and she screamed, “There’s ELEVEN seniors!” We were all speechless.
That was Lily saying hello to us in a way only she could and in a way only we would recognize; with the number 11. I have never been more positive that Heaven and angels are real than in that moment. And I can say with certainty that Lily Anderson is the most stylish, sparkly and sassy angel of them all.
Shortly after that game ended, the skies opened up and it poured. I remember the whole ride home being absolutely at peace and I knew Lily had held the rain off and had been there on the field with us. Right now as I type this, I have chills. I think that memory will always give me chills.
Today, as a junior at the University of Georgia, I serve on the Executive Board of Relay For Life. I have met the most amazing people and made incredible friends. I am touched daily by the stories I hear from other people affected by cancer.
All of this has stemmed from wanting to impact others the way Lily impacted me. I am such a tiny part of her story, but she will always be a big part of mine.
Lily’s family has a motto based on her personality and attitude towards things. They say, “Live a YES life like Lily did.” Mrs. Jennifer even gave our team these beautiful bracelets that are shaped like the word “YES.”
Here’s the meaning behind the motto: When life hands you a bad card, you can choose to see the worst or you can say YES to seeing the positive. Choose to say YES to all life can offer you and love every minute of it. That’s what Lily did.
Like I said, you would never know this kid had cancer. She didn’t let it keep her down. She was fun, giggly, and added sparkle wherever she went. Lily was literally personified glitter.
Most importantly, Lily was personified love. She LOVED life. And she LOVED everyone around her.
A common thing people ask you when you’re in college is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I used to think, “Graphic Designer, Artist, Marketing Director…” And these are all great goals. But those are things I want to DO. Not who I want to BE.
I’ve come to realize that when I grow up, I want to BE just like Lily Anderson: loving, happy, positive and always willing to say YES to the best things this life has to offer.