It’s no coincidence that Rehanna Lydon’s Relay for Life team was dubbed Rehanna’s Warriors. The 11-year-old fought cancer with strength and determination, and she did it with a grin.
Tom Hallman, principal at Evans City Middle School, where Rehanna would have been a sixth-grader in the fall, called her the “happy warrior.”
“She fought the battle with a smile on her face at all times,” he said in a statement. “She was an inspiration to all of those who knew her.”
On Monday, Rehanna lost her fight with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of muscular cancer with which she was diagnosed at age 8. After going into remission, she was diagnosed for a second time with the disease in 2010.
Her last weeks were spent in and out of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC for treatment. She died at the home she shared with her mom, Marcia Lydon, and her two younger sisters in Renfrew.
"She told us she was done and took the oxygon off herself so that we didn’t have to make that decision," Lydon said. "She died peacefully, and I was so thankful for that."
Lori Silvester, a family friend, said Rehanna always put others before herself.
“She just was so courageous and strong, and she cared and worried about other people and not herself,” Silvester said. “She was amazing, and I think so much more mature than a typical 11-year-old. She was a strong fighter.”
Earlier this summer, Silvester’s 11-year-old daughter Kate — a friend of Rehanna’s and a fellow student at Evans City Middle School — and her son, 8-year-old Harrison, put together the Alex’s Lemonade Stand at Cranberry’s Fun Fore All facility. The event raises money for childhood cancer research.
Silvester said Rehanna’s health began to fade shortly after the fundraiser.
“I think people were thrown for a loop because she looked so healthy,” she said. “The lemonade stand was the last day she was really good. She had severe pain from that day on.”
Doctors discovered two tumors pressing on Rehanna’s spine. Lydon said this caused her to be unable to walk. Rehanna spent almost two weeks in the hospital for treatment before coming home July 15.
After Rehanna returned to the hospital for more treatment, an ambulance brought her home Friday to be with her family.
Once there, Rehanna again displayed her inner strength. Silvester said the Lydon family on Saturday celebrated Rehanna’s sister Victoria’s 9th birthday.
Although she was using oxygen and a wheelchair, Rehanna insisted on being taken outside so she could photograph fireworks set off at the party.
“It was just really amazing,” Silvester said.
In June, Rehanna gleefully informed Patch of her love for baking and the vanilla cake she recently had created with orange zest. One of her favorite shows was Cake Boss on TLC, and she once briefly met cake maestro Buddy Valastro in an alley behind his shop in Hoboken, N.J. Rehanna was in the area for a girls-only trip to New York City, which she liked better than Disney World.
When she grew up, Rehanna wanted to be a cake decorator and own her own shop.
She also loved Vera Bradley bags, the color purple, Irish step dancing and Sir Alexander, Prince of Brownsdale — better known as Prince Alex — the horse given to her through the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
“I love, love, love Vera Bradley,” she sang out as she showed off her collection of purses.
At the time, Lydon said all the nurses at Children’s Hospital found Rehanna to be charming, as did the teachers and staff at her school.
“Rehanna Lydon was a brave, inspirational, beautiful, and courageous little girl who was wise beyond her years,” said Lauri Pendred, principal at Evans City Elementary School. “She was full of life and hope, with an endless spirit of strength.
"Rehanna fought this battle with cancer like a true warrior, never giving up. Rehanna truly blessed and touched many lives during her brief eleven years.”
Silvester said her daughter was taking Rehanna’s death hard, but a rainbow they saw outside the Lydon house comforted them both.
The blue skies opened up just for a moment Monday and poured down rain, she said. By the time the Silvesters ran to get Rehanna’s mother, the rain had stopped and a faint rainbow was in place. Silvester said she believes it was a sign from Rehanna.
“It had just rained enough for us to see a slight rainbow,” she said. “It was gone as fast as it came.”
Viewings for Rehanna will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday and Friday at the Boylan Funeral Home in Evans City. A service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. John Lutheran Church in Mars. Lydon said she and others plan to wear their purple Rehanna's Warriors T-shirts.
A luncheon to celebrate Rehanna’s life will be held in the Evans City Middle School’s large cafeteria after the burial.