A North County surfer who had a rare form of brain cancer and inspired supporters, including some celebrities, to donate thousands of dollars for her care and treatment, died on Christmas Day.
Kira Stanley was 18.
She became well-known after a plea for help to raise funds to fight her rare brain cancer went viral, inspiring not only donations of money but prompting well-wishers to send hundreds of cards, letters, hats, scarves and other items.
Stanley was an avid surfer, artist, talented student and a kind person, known for showering compliments on strangers, said friends and family members.
“She had a strong will and a strong personality,” her father, Robert Stanley, said Sunday Dec. 29. “She fought every day, really hard.”
He said his daughter died peacefully at 1:30 a.m. on Christmas, even smiling at the end. He said she woke up with terrible pain on Dec. 20, and asked to go to a hospital, which was a sign things were bad because she hated hospitals.
Eventually, Kira Stanley was placed on a machine to help her breathe but which limited her speaking ability. Luckily for the family, she had studied sign language for three years and was able to communicate that way.
Robert Stanley said his daughter insisted she didn’t want a funeral but rather a “big ass party.” The family is planning a paddle-out celebration at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas for Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend.
Signs of her illness first emerged in late September 2017, when she began experiencing double vision, which eventually led to more severe symptoms including slurred speech. She was eventually diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a tumor that starts in the brain stem and which has no effective treatment. The median survival rate is nine months from diagnosis, according to the Michael Moser Defeat DIPG Foundation.
Around 200 to 400 children are diagnosed with the tumors each year, the organization said.
To help pay for her medical care, many social media campaigns were launched.
One of the most publicized fundraisers started with her great uncle Jim Beaver, who co-starred in the long-running TV series “Supernatural.” The actor asked his social media followers for help with her treatment, and donations flooded in, eventually topping $400,000.
“It’s really weird to think that people would take the time out of their day to send something to someone they don’t know, but it’s really great,” Stanley told the Union-Tribune in early 2018.
Beaver wrote on Facebook after Stanley’s death that she was one of the bravest and most poised people he had ever met. “Her spirit was ferocious and loving and filled with grace,” he wrote.
Stanley remained a social media presence up until her death, with images of her pink or purple dyed hair, tattoos and adventures you might expect of a typical teenager. She also produced poetry and artwork, some of which was commissioned.
Pop star Billie Eilish posted a tribute on her Instagram lamenting Stanley’s death. Stanley was a big fan of the musician and the two were able to meet in November 2018. Stanley shared some of her drawings with Eilish and they posed for numerous pictures.
“I love you so much Kira. Please fly high. Rest in peace,” Eilish wrote.
Katie Francois-Lininger, a sign language teacher at La Costa Canyon High School, said Stanley was an “old soul” who was patient and kind, and had friendships with students from different walks of life.
Like many people who knew her, Francois-Lininger said her former student was stronger in the face of her illness than many people could imagine.
“Whenever I saw her on campus she was just Kira, the same loving and sweet person as I’d known before her diagnosis,” she said. “She didn’t let it change her heart or desire to be a good person.”
Robert Stanley said the family will continue accepting donations at the GoFundMe page set up for his daughter’s care to be used for outstanding medical bills and her memorial. Any extra money will be donated to charity, he said.
The GoFundMe page can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/helpkirafight
— Phillip Molnar is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune