Kellie Plas was soft-spoken, calm and even giggled a bit as she talked about her daughter, a young woman who affectionately went by the nickname “The Pink Princess.”
Plas said her daughter, Karlie Plas, often wrote in a journal about how she wanted to go to college in England, find the love of her life, get married and have babies of her own. The 20-year-old dreamed of a life and would let the harsh reality of the present fall to the wayside as she scribbled away her innermost personal thoughts.
“She never gave up,” Plas said. “She had cancer, but she was also a person with hopes and dreams and ambitions.”
It seemed so odd for Plas to be talking about her daughter in the past tense Thursday afternoon. But two days earlier, Karlie, the oldest of six children, died, ending her seven-year battle with an aggressive form of childhood cancer.
When Karlie was 13, a lump on her inner thigh led to a diagnosis of stage 4 rhabdomyosarcoma, and doctors gave her a survival rate of only 10 percent.
Since then, she endured multiple treatments, surgeries (including a full mastectomy by age 17), allergic reactions to medication, several infections involving her tumors and multiple rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. She even developed leukemia.
“Karlie still had so much she wanted to do, but her body wasn’t strong enough,” her mother said.
In the months and weeks leading up to Tuesday, Karlie’s illness progressively worsened. The pain became unbearable, and she told her mother exactly what she wanted.
She didn’t want to die at a hospital or at her home in Carlisle Township. When the end drew near, Karlie was taken to the Ames Family Hospice House in Westlake.
She was visited by all of her siblings — Shelby, 16, Tori, 13, Casey, 12, Herman, 9, and Brooklynn, 5. Friends stopped in to hold her hand and kiss her forehead, and a few hours later she quietly took her last breath.
“I would rather have it like that then let it drag on and on,” Plas said. “She didn’t want that. She was tired and in pain.”
The gravity of losing her child could be heard in Plas’ voice, although she didn’t cry.
“I think I have had over seven years to prepare for this,” she said. “But I don’t think you can ever truly be prepared for the death of your young child. I think in my heart I was hoping for a miracle, but I knew medically speaking, we weren’t supposed to have her this long.”
Cancer is hard for anyone to accept, but Karlie’s diagnosis was so different because it robbed a young life of so much, Plas said. She watched her friends grow up, graduate from school, go to the military, have boyfriends and some even had babies.
“She never got to go to the next step. She was always stuck in hospital mode,” Plas said. “But I still learned so much about living from being with her. She would always say ‘Mom, take a deep breath and move on.’”
Plas called her daughter her hero.
“I don’t know anyone else who has endured what she has had and still overcame it with a smile on their face,” she said. “She has shown me how to keep hoping and to stay positive. Just to never give up and keep fighting.”
Karlie was a giver. Plas said on her 16th birthday in lieu of gifts she had friends and family make donations to Camp Quality, a support program and camp for children with cancer.
But she was also a typical teen. Her Make-a-Wish wish: A Mall of America shopping spree.
“What 18-year-old senior graduating from high school doesn’t want a shopping spree? So it was perfect for her,” Plas said.
Karlie took nothing for granted, her mother said. She loved to watch sports and visit museums and flower gardens. She graduated from Midview High School in 2012 — something doctors originally told her she would never do.
She got her first taste of international travel when she was 15, taking a trip to England with two friends.
The journey from Karlie’s diagnosis to death has also touched many people.
The Grafton/Midview Schools community rallied behind her. In 2012, the fourth annual Cabin Fever Music Festival was held with the proceeds going to the Plas family.
This past December, family and friends threw Karlie a bash called the Snowflake Ball that started out as a simple benefit but quickly transformed into a night of celebrating her young life
When Karlie, dressed in a long, white iridescent ball gown and pink sequined tuxedo jacket, walked into the celebration after arriving via fire truck with an escort from Carlisle Township firefighters, she did so with a smile on her face.
The smile didn’t vanish as she danced with a firefighter decked out in his dress uniform, chomped down on pink cotton candy or posed for pictures.
“She loved it,” Plas said. “That night, she really felt special and loved. She was an amazing young woman. I am blessed and honored to have been her mother.”
Calling hours will be 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Bogner Family Funeral Home, 36625 Center Ridge Road in North Ridgeville. Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Monday.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Memorial Fund of Karlie Plas at any FirstMerit Bank branch.