How a Small Oregon Town Is Helping a 5-Year-Old with Terminal Cancer Live Out Her Dreams
"We're just trying to fit everything in because we'll never get this opportunity again," Lila May's Mom, Heidi Hall, tells PEOPLE
The town of Hood River, Oregon has been obsessed with Luke Bryan lately, bombarding him on social media and scouring their contacts to find a way to reach him.
They’re trying to tell him that their town’s unofficial princess, Lila May Schow, a 5-year-old with terminal cancer, is dreaming of joining him on stage for her favorite song – and that they’ll do anything they can to make it happen.
“She’s just always loved him, whenever she hears his songs come on, she starts dancing,” Lila May’s mom, Heidi Hall, tells PEOPLE. “Her favorite song of all time is ‘That’s My Kind of Night.’ If she could to be on stage with him while he sings that song, that would just make her whole entire year.”
After Hall posted about Lila May’s dream on Facebook, the town of jumped in, starting a viral campaign on social media and reaching out to every contact they can think of to reach the singer.
This isn’t the first time the people of Hood River have come together to make Lila May’s dreams come true.
In late July, the town threw Lila an unforgettable 5th birthday party – a royal ball combined with a prom and a wedding.
News of the town’s generosity and the dream princess-themed bash made headlines around the world, bringing attention to a story that has been going on for three years.
Lila May and her family moved to the small town of Hood River just months before the then 2-year-old was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare type of childhood cancer, in September 2012.
“When the doctor told us, I was just devastated,” Hall, 30, tells PEOPLE. “You just think, ‘This can never happen to me. It happens to other people but it never could happen to me.’ It was just complete and utter devastation. My heart was shattered.”
As news of the young girl’s diagnosis spread, the whole town looked for ways to help out.
“When she got diagnosed, this town took her in instantly,” says Jenny Brown Lorenzen, 33, a close friend of the family. “The people of Hood River have just done anything and everything. We’ve hosted fundraisers a couple times a year that have each raised over $10,000 at a time.”
The funds helped pay for three years of treatments for Lila May including nine surgeries in three states.
“She’s fought so hard for three years because she knows that she can do this,” Hall says. “She hasn’t given up. She says all the time, ‘I kicked cancer’s butt.’ ”
While the spunky redhead remains determined, her parents have been forced to confront a grim reality. In early July, Hall’s heart was shattered anew when doctors told her Lila May’s body was too weak for treatments to continue.
“She can’t do anymore treatments because she had so much intense chemotherapy that it basically killed her bone marrow,” Hall tells PEOPLE. “Now her bone marrow can’t regenerate cells. They said the prognosis is terminal.”
Without treatment, doctors told Hall that her daughter likely wouldn’t live to see Thanksgiving. Amidst the unimaginable heartbreak, Hall found strength in a new mission – filling her daughter’s remaining months with as many happy, once-in-a-lifetime moments she could manage.
“We’re just trying to fit everything in because we’ll never get this opportunity again,” Hall says. “As long as she has energy to do it, we’re gonna go for it.”
She started with Lila May’s birthday, asking her friends for help planning an unforgettable bash.
“My little princess is turning 5 on July 31, and this is quite possibly her last birthday,” Hall wrote in a Facebook post. ” We really want to make this a big party, seeing as how she will never get to go to the prom or have a wedding. I want her to feel like the bell of the ball!”
The post was shared hundreds of times and offers to help began pouring in.
“People started coming out of the woodwork offering to do stuff,” says Lorenzen, who helped plan the party. “People from all over Oregon, Washington, and California started donating things so that Lila May could have the birthday she always wanted.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” adds Hall. “I just put it up on Facebook one morning while I was drinking my coffee and the next thing I know it’s gone all over the country. Every single thing was donated.”
On July 31st, Lila May and her three best friends took a horse-drawn carriage to a local bank building that had been transformed into a castle complete with a drawbridge.
“It just felt like a dream,” Hall says. “It was magical to see her. Her favorite part was the carriage ride because she got to have all of her girlfriends in the carriage with her and of course had Luke Bryan’s music playing. When we pulled up to the castle her eyes got so big.”
“I don’t know I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite as special as that, it was pretty awesome,” Hall adds.
The night’s emcee told the crowd that all negative thoughts should be left at the door. Still, admits Lorenzen, it was hard to forget this birthday was likely to be Lila’s last.
“Lila at the time was in great spirits and acted like a normal 5-year-old girl, so the thought of her not having another birthday was so hard to wrap your head around,” Lorenzen says.
The party meant everything, not just to Lila May, but to her family as well.
“Seeing the people of the town love her so much gives us strength to keep fighting,” Hall says. “I honestly don t think that we could have that fight in us if we didn t know that we are so supported. Our town will back us, whether it’s love or support or money or whatever it is, we know that we will have help. We couldn t do it without them. It takes everybody just to do this for one kid.”
The town keeps finding new ways to give.
One resident started his own fundraiser for Lila May by paddling the 68-miles from Hood River to Portland on Sept. 8.
“I’m kind of taking Lila May with me to remind me to appreciate the bonus 53 years I’ve been able to do stuff like this that she may not,” he wrote on the fundraising page where he raised over $5,000 for the girl he’s met only once.
Next week, Lila May will start kindergarten.
“Just being able to enjoy a couple of weeks of that is going to be meaningful to Heidi,” says Lorenzen. “She’s emotional most of the time just thinking of all the things she wont get to see or do with her daughter.”
And in May, Lorenzen says the Lila May Tutu trot – a fundraiser the town has held for Lila for the past two years – will be held once again, most likely without the little girl a local paper named “The Princess of Hood River.”
“We will do it again next year, probably as a memorial run for Lila,” says Lorenzen. “It would be awesome if she is still here but we know that might not happen. The town kind of needs it, we all feel like she’s our own and will need to process that.”