ENCINITAS — At least 1,000 people are expected to come out and celebrate the life of an 18-year-old surfer from Encinitas who made a huge impact on those around her, and whose battle with cancer caught the attention of public figures like Billie Eilish, Kelly Slater, and former President Barack Obama.
Kira Stanley died just over three weeks ago, on Christmas morning, two years after being diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a rare brain cancer. She passed away surrounded by her parents and with a Pink Floyd song playing in the hospital room.
“She passed without pain,” her father Robert Stanley said in a phone interview Jan. 15. “At one point prior to her passing, a day before or so, she said that she was ready to go, and she was excited to go, and she passed peacefully, with a smile on her face, surprisingly… It was surreal and it was beautiful.”
Robert Stanley and his wife Wendy described in a Go Fund Me page they started for their daughter in November 2017, that her symptoms began a couple of months earlier with double vision, which they thought was her eyesight since she had astigmatism. Things escalated quickly from there to some mild dizziness and occasional headaches that eventually got so bad they had to take her to the doctor. A litany of tests followed and eventually detected a cancerous tumor attached to her brain stem.
Kira Stanley’s great uncle, actor Jim Beaver whose long list of credits include leading roles on the popular TV shows “Deadwood” and “Supernatural,” tweeted about her fight and it went viral, helping to raise more than $400,000 for her campaign.
Kira Stanley got the opportunity to meet pop star Eilish and surfer Slater, and even got a letter of support from Obama.
“She, in a matter of minutes, connected on a very deep level with all people and I think that was because she was a wear-your-emotions-on-your-sleeve, no b—shit kind of person,” Robert Stanley said. “So even if you were super famous and everyone knew you, she just treated you like you were someone else. I think that’s not something that people that are well-known experience very often.”
Her impact on Eilish was clear a couple of days after her death. The superstar musician posted a tribute to Kira Stanley on her Instagram page, which included two photos of the pair — one where they’re hugging and the other where she is giving Eilish a kiss on the cheek, along with a message that read, in part: “I love you so much Kira. Please fly high. Rest in peace.”
Robert Stanley said he shared a close relationship with his daughter which included the two of them surfing together almost every day, from the time she was 11 until her diagnosis. He said his grief comes in waves.
“I think in some cases it’s like not real yet and in moments it is,” he said. “I have a feeling that it’s going to hit harder after the memorial.”
Robert Stanley said his daughter wanted them to throw her a “big ass party” after she passed away and that’s exactly what’s planned for Jan. 18 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
The party starts at 6 p.m. and goes until 11 p.m. at the Mission Tower Building.
There will be a DJ, live bands, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and food, including from Chick-fil-A, Kira’s favorite.
“She really, in her final months with us, she was just addicted to Chick-fil-A, and always demanded to have two milkshakes — one vanilla and one Oreo cookie — and the plain chicken sandwich,” Robert Stanley said.
They will celebrate Kira Stanley with pink hair extensions — her signature color, a photo booth with props, Kelly Slater signed shirts, a donation raffle which will include large prints of her artwork, and a temporary tattoo station with her artwork.
A paddle out is scheduled for earlier that day, beginning at noon, at Moonlight Beach.
Robert Stanley said during her illness, Kira Stanley went from an athlete/surfer to transforming herself into an artist/poet. Her artwork is featured on an Instagram page she created, @ran_doodle. And the family is working on publishing a book she made, and put together with her mom, that’s a collection of her poetry and drawings.
Robert Stanley said the family, which includes older sister Zane, has received a tremendous outpouring of love and support, so much that it’s “almost impossible for us to thank everyone individually, but if we could we would, and she would too, with sincere gratitude.”
Part of the way the Stanleys plan to give thanks is by donating any money that’s left over after all of Kira Stanley’s medical bills to organizations that they believe she would want it donated to.
Asked what he’ll miss most about his daughter, Robert Stanley paused then said tearfully, “Other than everything? That’s hard to say without crying.”
After another long pause he added, “Her smile, her sign language, she did a lot of sign language so she would be across the room and sign ‘I love you.’ And her energy. I’ll miss her entirely.”
He said he feels Kira Stanley lived a full life in a very short period of time.
“I think there are certain spiritual beings that are put on this planet for different reasons,” he said, saying she loved teaching young kids how to surf and later helping kids who also battled cancer. “I think she came here and did what she was supposed to do, but I’ll still miss her.”