Brookline teen remembered for courage in cancer fight
BRATTLEBORO -- There are two short videos that bookend Lexy Giallella's sickness.
In the first, from September 2012, she is an excited 14-year-old with long brown hair, talking about feeling "like a movie star" after meeting an American Idol winner. She is a day away from major surgery, but she does not flinch when speaking about the strong possibility that she has cancer.
In the second video, little more than a year later, Lexy does not speak. Seated in a hospital bed, she is gaunt and wears a pink knit hat; she looks directly into the camera, pointing to herself and then the viewer over song lyrics declaring, "I am a champion, and you're gonna hear me roar."
Those who knew the Leland & Gray Union High School sophomore see her spirit in both clips. And they are paying tribute to a girl who suffered much but also lived to the fullest in the year before her death on Nov. 12.
Even the producer of the October clip, who met Lexy only briefly at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, could not forget the look in the young girl's eyes.
"We didn't chat much but, in the end, I feel like it is one of the most powerful moments in the video," Chris Cammock wrote. "She may look sick, but there is a peace and strength in her that is ... remarkable."
Lexy loved to hunt, loved the outdoors, loved camouflage and loved her friends and family. She was a seemingly healthy teenager from Brookline when she fell ill around Labor Day weekend last year.
In the first video, an interview with Burlington-based WCAX, a giggling Lexy recounts an arranged meeting with country singer Scotty McCreery. Then she turns clear-eyed and serious, contemplating surgery.
"There's a less than 1-percent chance that it's not cancer," she tells the interviewer. "We're hoping it's a miracle, but we don't know for a fact."
In fact, the diagnosis was grave: She had a rare cancer of the liver and lungs. By October of last year, she had undergone a first round of chemotherapy.
One sunny Saturday morning around that time, though, she appeared at a fundraiser outside the Brattleboro Elks Lodge with a new hunting license in hand. That was indicative of her attempts to continue to live a relatively normal life.
Lexy attended Leland & Gray part-time. She earned a learner's permit and could be spotted tooling around in a Chevy pickup, a gift from her grandfather. And in July, she was baptized at Mountain View Seventh-day Adventist Church in Vernon.
She also took full advantage of opportunities offered to her because of her illness. There was a hunting trip late last year to Tennessee via Hunt of a Lifetime, a nonprofit that arranges hunting and fishing excursions for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Lexy bagged two deer on that trip.
"She liked it a lot. She talked about it a lot," said her stepfather, Randy Clark. "She was very happy she went. She did a little four-wheeling down there."
There also was a trip to the Bahamas earlier this year via Make-A-Wish.
"She wanted to swim with the dolphins, and they made it come true," her stepfather said. "She was very excited to do that."
But she also struggled mightily. A Facebook page -- www.facebook.com/LexyGia -- documents terrible pain and many trips to Dartmouth: Surgeries 14 and 15 happened in August; a 17th surgery is noted in September.
As autumn arrived, Lexy's mother, Cherish Clark, was at her daughter's bedside constantly. In a post from early October, she notes some improvement in Lexy's condition.
"She has decided to throw herself a get-well party, so our family has got our orders," Cherish Clark wrote. "Only Lexy can be in a lot of pain and still want to have a party."
She added, "keep the prayers coming."
Those monitoring Lexy's condition apparently needed no such prompt. There were "Team Lexy" T-shirts and "Lexy's Angels" bracelets.
The Facebook page has surpassed 10,500 likes, and well-wishers chimed in from everywhere: On Nov. 4, for example, comments came from as close as Brattleboro, Brookline and Wardsboro and from as far away as Saskatchewan, Hawaii, Columbia, Spain and London.
"I'm praying for you from Venezuela," one commenter wrote.
For a time, there was hope that Lexy could return home again.
"We tried to bring her home, but her pain levels and the medicine she was taking ... it was just too much," her stepfather said.
Family members talk of Lexy's unrelenting optimism, saying she "always found the shiny side of a rusty nail." But there came a time when she and those she loved understood that the end was near.
"In the end, she asked, 'Am I dying?'" Randy Clark recalled. "And we had to come clean and say, 'Yes.'"
Alexis June "Lexy" Giallella died on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 12, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. She was 15.
Visiting hours are scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. today at St. Michael's Catholic Church on Walnut Street in Brattleboro; a memorial service will be held there at 1 p.m. Saturday. A reception will follow at the Brattleboro Elks on Putney Road.
In addition to her mother and stepfather, Lexy is survived by her father, Robert Giallella of Guilford; a brother and two step-sisters; and her grandparents.
She also leaves behind a large group of other family members, friends and schoolmates. On Dec. 20, which would have been her 16th birthday, friends at Leland & Gray plan to wear camouflage to honor Lexy's memory, Randy Clark said.
The family also has set up a scholarship in her memory at Leland & Gray. Donations can be sent to Lexy's Scholarship Fund in care of River Valley Credit Union, P.O. Box 8366, Brattleboro Vt. 05304.
As online tributes and donations continue, Clark said he will most remember Lexy's pride in being a "redneck" -- hunting, fishing, four-wheeling and camo -- as well as her smile and her quiet courage.
"She was trying to stay strong, trying to make the best of it," he said. "She didn't have any self-pity. She knew this was cancer. She tried to go out and do everything she could possibly do, even though the energy wasn't there."
In the video from September 2012, one shot shows a poster encouraging Lexy to stay "country strong." Family members say she did that and more in spite of an illness that ravaged her body.
As she was embarking on that journey, Lexy tells the interviewer that she worries about losing her hair and her appetite. For a moment, she looks scared.
But the clip ends with this image: She releases a large bunch of multicolored balloons into the sky, shielding her eyes against the sun as they rise.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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