Team Summer lives on after teen founder's death - FOX 32 News Chicago

Team Summer lives on after teen founder's death

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Tyler Haynes and Lacey Johnson visited Summer Dale (seated) in Houston shortly before Summer's death. Tyler Haynes and Lacey Johnson visited Summer Dale (seated) in Houston shortly before Summer's death.

A charity created by a 16-year-old battling cancer lives on, months after its teen founder passed away.

In the middle of battling cancer, Summer Dale created "Team Summer," a charity that donates gifts to help young cancer patients get through treatment. Summer passed away in November.

At Summer's memorial, her mother Lynne described cancer as the crack that allowed Summer's light to shine through, onto friends, onto strangers and onto kids struggling with their own cancers.

In the crowd was 21-year-old Lacey Johnson, one of the first people touched by Team Summer. And Lacey has now picked up the torch for Summer.

Every three months, Lacey Johnson, goes back to the AFLAC Cancer Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, holding her breath that her bone cancer hasn't returned.

"If my blood work is good, and my CT scans are clear, then I come back in three months.  But, if they're not, then it's back to chemo and back to being in the hospital all the time," said Johnson.

The 21-year-old's wrists are lined with bracelets; one is for Summer Dale.

"I remember everything about Summer.  I remember her laugh, and her smile, I remember her jokes.  She was so raunchy.  So raunchy," said Johnson.

And so fearless.

The two girls, almost mirror images, met last winter. Lacey was in the middle of chemo; Summer in treatment for a soft-tissue cancer.

Summer had just created "Team Summer," a charity that wanted to give Lacey a photo session with photographer Brenda Richter Kessling to help Lacey cope with losing her long hair.
       
"Summer walked in looking 10 feet tall with every bracelet on in the state of Georgia.  And I sat here and thought, ‘Wow, she's really pretty! And she doesn't have hair,'" said Johnson.

Summer instantly felt like family.  They understood each other.

"I would call her, ‘Summer, I am so sick of this! I am not doing chemo anymore!'  ‘Yes, you are Jolynn.' She would only call me Jolynn when she would get mad at me.  ‘You are doing this Lacey Jolynn Johnson!'  ‘Yes, ma'am!'"

By spring, "Team Summer" had become Summer Dale's driving mission.

"She would wake up in the morning and be like, ‘Gotta find a kid, find a new kid with cancer,'" said Johnson.

She found 2-year-old Josiah. He got a Leap Pad to get him through chemotherapy. Antonio, 13, battling leukemia, got a laptop. And watching it all, Lacey realized Team Summer wasn't about the gifts.

"It's about the connection you make.  It's about the understanding. That some other kid out there is suffering, and you can talk to them about it," said Johnson.  

As Summer pushed on, so did her cancer.

By July, she was back in M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where even the medication couldn't stop the terrible headaches.

Lacey, in Sandersville, called Summer's mother Lynne.

"And Lynne said, ‘Summer has tumors in her brain.'  And I said, ‘No, she doesn't!'  And I got off the phone with her, and it was like, immediately, I slid off the side of my bed and it was like, I prayed so hard and cried.  And right then I was like, ‘What can I do, what can I do for Summer,'" said Johnson.

The answer: grab Tyler Hayes, another Team Summer kid battling cancer, and get on a plane to Houston.

"Total surprise to her.  And I wish everyone could've seen the look on her face when we walked in.  She was just like, ‘Oh!'  And she asked me over and over again, ‘I'm on drugs, you're not really here, are you,'" said Johnson.

Summer Dale passed away November 11. She was 16.

Lacey and Tyler spoke at her memorial, blanketed in purple, Summer's color.

And two weeks after Summer's Death, Lacey and Antonio, the kid who got the laptop, picked up the torch for Team Summer, making 10-year-old Enrique's day, and week and month by giving him an iPad.

"And he opened the present and was just like, ‘Oh!' And the entire of the entire restaurant changed.  It was like Summer was there.  His face lit up, he was talkative.  He wanted to know how to work the iPad, he wanted us to set it up right there.  He was like, ‘I have to go to chemo!  Set it up,'" said Johnson. "I've realized, Summer was holding back on everybody.  She was like, ‘Oh, yeah, giving is fun.'  No, giving is amazing. Amazing!"

And Summer's work, has become Lacey's mission.

"I want people pouring in to say, ‘We want to give donations.  We want to give a kid a gift,'" said Johnson.

Because Summer Dale would've loved that.

"She would be amazed by that.  And I think with a little help from above, that will happen," said Johnson.

If you would like to learn more about Summer Dale and some of the kids whose lives she's changed, or, if you know a kid who has cancer and needs help, visit teamsummer.org.

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