CAMPBELL COUNTY—Erica Nelson is preparing for the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s loss to a public two-year fight against bone cancer.
“This past year has been a fog,” she said. “I really feel like I have sleepwalked through it. My heart hurts and it beats different now. I really miss my daughter.”
At age 14, Katelyn Norman died from osteosarcoma — an aggressive bone cancer more common in children. She was diagnosed in the eighth-grade and began checking off goals for her bucket list as she prepared for the terminal fate.
As her story spread virally on social media networks, it quickly gathered an international platform.
The Foundation of Katelyn Ann-May Norman Childhood Cancer Awareness was set up as part of Norman’s bucket list to further the pursuit of a cure for cancer. Founder Brandon Huckaby remembers when he learned Norman’s fight with cancer was gaining support overseas.
“People were asking me, ‘Have you read this, have you read that?’ There were stories from Britain, from Australia,” he said. “And that’s one of those moments when you start tearing up.”
Huckaby and the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office planned the inaugural Light the Night for Kate Childhood Cancer Festival on March 26, the day County Mayor William Baird declared “Katelyn Norman Day.”
The event began as a simple candlelight vigil and grew to a crowd of thousands that stretched for miles along the highway.
But on the way to her prom — themed “Katie in the Sky with Diamonds” — Norman had difficulty breathing and was airlifted back to her room at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville.
A special gathering took place outside there. She was able to have her prom -— corsage and prom queen sash included. There was also a viewing of well wishes her classmates had taped for her.
Under sedation, she passed three days later on March 29, 2013. Since then, her legacy has left a long-lasting impression.
Now, sponsors and vendors are in the process of joining the production of the second annual Light the Night for Kate Childhood Cancer Festival. Signs have been erected at the site, 2530 Jacksboro Pike.
Light the Night will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on March 26. The festival is expected to feature face-painting, a musical showcase, Rolling Video Games of Knoxville, inflatables and more.
“The production is going well in my opinion,” said Bambi Fields, a foundation board member.
“I’ve had various musicians contact me that are interested in performing. It’s an amazing start, considering this is the first year as a festival, and it will only keep growing.”
Fields anticipates a large turnout and said many people have been talking about the festival. She said she can’t believe it has been nearly a year since Norman’s passing.
“The whole process has been unreal,” she said. “It feels like yesterday that I was just hearing the news and us all pouring out to support her. The impact that she has left has also been surreal.”
Nelson said she and Norman had agreed her passing wouldn’t be a goodbye.
“It’s a, ‘I’ll see you on the flipside,’” Nelson said. “Kate was a force to be reckoned with. She changed me as well. I see life so differently now, thanks to her -— but we do come from a long line of fighters on my mom’s side.”
Nelson said a lot of families often go into hiding when someone is diagnosed terminally ill, but she said Norman was different and refused “to stay in the house and have a pity party.”
She said she believes God used Norman as a testimony for the world to see, and she made an impact on the community.
Fields said Norman was a beautiful, selfless person in every aspect and had a passion for life that improved the quality of others’ lives.
“She would be beyond thrilled to see that her organization is taking off and fulfilling her dream of helping others.”
The LaFollette Press named Norman the Campbell Countian of the Year 2013 in honor of her positive worldview. She was actively involved in anti-bullying and president of Campbell County High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance.
Developed last year as part of Norman’s bucket list, the Foundation of Katelyn Ann-May Norman Childhood Cancer Awareness is an organization with a mission to research the disease, advocate awareness and support families impacted by it. At one time, more than $100,000 had reportedly been donated to the foundation.
The money apparently sat dormant until last month, when the Norman family petitioned for Y-12 Federal Credit Union to release the donations given to Norman’s cause.
A misconception the bank owns the funds, due to lack of a benefactor, fueled a rapid, community-wide response.
“People wrote 532 emails to Y-12,” Huckaby said.
“Some were hateful, some simple. Some probably should have been censored.”
The money has yet to be released. Y-12 maintains it is abiding by a state law that if money raised surpasses what is needed for a particular organization’s intended mission, any remaining funds must go to an organization founded on researching terminal illness or an individual suffering from the illness.
“The paperwork is set up so that Y-12 took it over,” Huckaby said. “When someone dies and there’s no benefactor, they take care of it.”
In February, Chris Smith, Y-12’s vice president of marketing and sales, told the Press that Y-12 supports many charities and chose to participate in Katelyn’s Bucket List charity.
He said Y-12 staff feels deeply for Katelyn and the suffering of her family and friends, and the bank is committed to supporting efforts to fund the foundation in accordance with Tennessee law.
Smith was unavailable for further comment this week.
While the foundation is not officially registered with Tennessee’s Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming, Huckaby said he is filing with the IRS and attorneys for the foundation to become a 501(c)(3) by the end of April.
For information about the foundation, its mission and upcoming events, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 377-3226.
Visit the foundation’s Facebook page or livelikekate.org to stay up-to-date and offer a contribution.