- Bakersfield City School District
Roosevelt student fighting cancer supported by her school, community
She’s going through a tough battle, but not alone. From her closest family members and classmates to the thousands of strangers who have viewed her viral videos, eight-year-old Delilah Loya is fighting cancer with the strength of her community behind her.
Four years into her battle, Delilah spends most weeks in the hospital receiving treatment or at home recovering from them. But at least one week a month, she has enough strength to excitedly do the thing most kids consider routine: she gets to go to school.
“I like math, I also like writing, “ said Delilah. “I also like recess and whenever it's raining and it's really windy…we have recess inside the classroom. I like that, because in our classroom we have a screen and we get to watch movies and stuff.”
Her mother, Samantha Loya says she’s thankful for the school’s efforts to give her daughter a sense of normalcy.
“It lifts her up and gives her a little bit more happiness,” said Samantha Loya. “To be here and be involved and everyone knows what she's going through. She’s not alone. She doesn’t feel alone at all here at school, which is awesome.”
Delilah’s second-grade teacher, Laynee Ambrose, says Delilah has been a positive influence in the classroom, and her classmates are excited to see her when she returns.
“They’re so kind to her,” said Ambrose, “As she walks in they’re like, ‘Delilah!’ They’re all super happy, they're like, ‘What can I help you with?’”
“It makes me so happy because sometimes at school kids tell me, ‘Hi Delilah,’ and I don’t even know them,” said Delilah. “I think, ‘how do they know my name,’ and then I think, ‘Oh, maybe it's because they see my videos on the news.”
Delilah’s journey has been closely followed as her fight is shared online and her followers cheer her on. It all began when her parents were finding it hard to keep extended family in the loop with treatment updates over the phone and through text, especially on days when things weren’t going well. They decided to share updates on social media to keep all aspects of her journey in one place. The first post to go viral was a heartbreaking video of Delilah needing to leave school at the start of the year to begin radiation.
“It’s just really hard,” said Delilah. “I just wish I could be home and I wish I could be going to school every day.”
The posts gained traction beyond family, reaching influencers and celebrities who wanted to support the Roosevelt Elementary second grader. TikTok do-gooder Isaiah Garza reached out to see how he could help, eventually finding a way for her to be a Rams cheerleader for a day and bringing Plain White T’s lead singer Tom Higgenson to sing her namesake song in person. The 2006 hit “Hey There Delilah” has been a source of hope for the family, the lyrics resonating with them about their struggles and hopes for the future.
“It says, ‘Two more years and you’ll be done with school and we’ll be making history,’ and I just feel like that’s the cancer,” said Samantha Loya. “We’ll be done with cancer soon and we’re going to make history, Delilah. We’re going to do this.”
The videos and news coverage have amassed millions of views, and has led to many bucketlist dreams coming true: a trip to Six Flags, and coming up, trips to Hawaii and Colorado’s hot springs. The visibility has also helped the family raise funds for medical and travel expenses incurred. Delilah’s parents consider the support encouraging and uplifting.
“As parents, sometimes it’s hard to even encourage ourselves to keep going, because we’re both just in it together with her, seeing everything that she’s going through,” said Samantha Loya, “But when the community helps, and other people reach out, and they try to lift not just Delilah but our entire family, and really be there for us, it really takes a burden off of us. They’re standing in the gap for us. That gap where we can’t strengthen ourselves right now, they’re giving us that strength.”
Back at Roosevelt, Delilah’s teacher encouraged parents to talk with their children about being this type of positive force in the world, starting in the classroom.
“Just remind kids to be kind,” said Ambrose, “because you never know what they’re going through.”