Kelida Kenol calls herself an “ordinary teenager. Like many 14-year-old girls, she loves electronic gadgets. She follows friends on Instagram. Her favorite movies are High School Musical and Frozen.
She listens to Whitney Houston, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, One Direction and the Jonas Brothers.
And her Christmas wish list includes red Beats headphones, an iPad or pink iPhone with a Hello Kitty case, girls’ Jordan sneakers in pink, with black and white trim; a Foot Locker gift card, and a purse by Gucci, Polo or Hollister.
But spend five minutes with Kelida, and it is clear there is nothing ordinary about the girl with the quick wit and giant doe-like eyes. The Fort Lauderdale teen faces extraordinary challenges.
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Five years ago, her mother Carline died of complications from the AIDS virus. Kelida’s grandmother, Albertine Louisy, moved to South Florida from Haiti to care for her grandchildren. Their father had died of the same virus when Kelida was a baby. A photo of Carline sits on a living room shelf, amidst the children’s sports trophies, and underneath a sign that reads: “Expect a miracle.”
“My Mom put that up when she was going through her illness,” Kelida explained.
Though the kids missed their mother terribly, they were getting by, and Kelida made honor roll last year.
But in late August, one week into eighth grade at Sunrise Middle School, Kelida was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor after complaining of dizziness and trouble walking. She underwent surgery to have it removed, and doctors discovered it had metastasized into her spine. She remained in the hospital all of September and most of October, weakened by the surgery and pneumonia.
She has been undergoing aggressive radiation and chemotherapy, speech therapy and she is using a walker and wheelchair to get around. Despite her struggles, her main concern has been her grandmother, who has not left her side. Louisy helps Kelida get to the bathroom, helps bathe and dress her, makes her laugh, and cooks her fried plantains, fried pork, and pikliz, a spicy Haitian coleslaw made with shredded carrots, peppers and hot sauce.
“My grandma puts food on the table for me, helps me walk wherever I need to go, and is always there for me 24 hours a day,” Kelida said.
Instead of being bitter and sullen about her illness, Kelida said she prays and gives thanks for her blessings every day.
“I give thanks that I’m still alive,” she said, with a sweet smile made crooked from the surgery. “I am thankful that I have people to take care of me. I am thankful I have a roof over my head, and food to eat. Some people don’t have those things.”
Kelida is close with her brothers, Jesse, 18, and Tcheddy, 16, both students at Whiddon Rogers Education Center. She says they took the news of her cancer hard, and neither one likes to talk about it.
“They were sad for me, and angry that it happened to me,” she said. “They don’t really talk to me about it, but they mess with me like all brothers do their baby sister.”
Kelida is known for her sense of humor, and she said it makes perfect sense that her birthday is April 1, “because people make jokes on April Fools’ Day, and I’m all about joking.”
Her happy disposition made her popular in school. Her classmates wrote her letters while she was in the hospital and posted get well greetings on Facebook. She misses them, and is eager to get back to school and her normal routine. Doctors have not told her when she will be well enough to resume school, but she is hoping it is sometime in early 2015.
In the meantime, she does home schooling and spends the rest of the time in therapy. She says the chemotherapy and radiation make her exhausted, so it’s hard to find energy for much else. She gets counseling and aid from the Broward Health-Kinship Cares Initiative, the agency that nominated her for Wish Book.
Kelida’s grandmother said there were moments she didn’t think she could handle losing her daughter and watching her granddaughter battle cancer. But she says “God and Kelida’’ got her through those tough times.
“I always loved her, but I love her even more now after watching how strong she has been at such a young age,” Louisy said through a Creole-speaking interpreter. Her eyes moistened as she described the courage Kelida has shown the past few months. Louisy then broke down, and left the room to compose herself.
Kelida dreams about the future a lot. She first wanted to be a hair stylist. Then a fashion designer. Now, she’s thinking doctor.
“The situation I come from makes me want to reach out to kids,” she said. “I was really scared when I found out about my tumor, and I think I would like to be a doctor someday so I can help other kids deal with cancer and other diseases. I wonder all the time what my life’s going to be like in the future.”
In the meantime, she’d be thrilled with those red Beat headphones, an iPad, a Hello Kitty case, and a pair of pink Jordans. “I know it may seem silly that I want name brand things, but I’m just a normal teenager,” she said.
How to help
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year.
▪ To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook
▪ To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444
▪ For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com
▪ Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans
Read more at Miami Herald.com/wishbook