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YEAR END: Nevaeh Denine is our Newsmaker of the Year

Nevaeh Denine and her mother Holly in happy times. Nevaeh, 9, died in August after long battling neuroblastoma. The little girl, who showed us what kindness and courage means, left a far-reaching impact on people across the province and country, and her legacy lives on with Nevaeh’s Lemonade Stand.— Amanda Dinn photo
Nevaeh Denine and her mother Holly in happy times. Nevaeh, 9, died in August after long battling neuroblastoma. The little girl, who showed us what kindness and courage means, left a far-reaching impact on people across the province and country, and her legacy lives on with Nevaeh’s Lemonade Stand.— Amanda Dinn photo - Contributed

The Telegram readers overwhelmingly agree the little girl with a big heart who died in August impacted them the most

We polled readers of The Telegram on who they felt was the Newsmaker of the Year for 2018.

Our pages over the past year were stuffed with stories of people who impacted us — some positively, some negatively, some impressing us with their ideas and energy and actions, some saddening us with their stories, others causing fear in our communities because of their crimes.

There were political and industry leaders making the announcements of the day that will map our future, and stories that looked back to monumental events and heroes in our history.

But one person was the overwhelming choice for Newsmaker of the Year — a young person whose light and selflessness shone through and above all what was captured in the thousands of words running across our pages. A little girl who touched the hearts of readers far and wide, brought us down to reality, let us see innocence for what it is and can be and should be, and led so many to reach out, to push petty differences aside, and to follow her example of helping others.

Nevaeh Denine.

Nevaeh is heaven spelled backwards.

In August, at age 9, Nevaeh lost her battle with neuroblastoma.

Back in 2014, while going through rounds of chemotherapy and watching the Janeway Telethon while in hospital, Nevaeh imagined aloud starting the world's biggest lemonade stand to help other children facing a disease like hers.

“On my really hard days … seeing the posts people put up about what they are doing, a random act of kindness, because of Nevaeh, stuff like that, makes it easier."
Nevaeh's mother, Holly Denine 

Along with help from her mother, family and friends, Nevaeh’s Lemonade Stand was born. It has become an annual event having raised more than $160,000 for children in Newfoundland and Labrador living with pediatric cancer.

In 2019, the lemonade stand will become a registered charity to carry on the work Nevaeh started.

News of her passing in August spread across the province and country, drew an outpouring of condolences, and led to an amazing rise in support for Nevaeh’s Lemonade Stand. Community groups, businesses and individuals held fundraisers and lemonade stands in her name. The yellow and purple colours of the stand appeared on logos everywhere, and in parades and at events. Social media posts were made and shared again and again.

Nevaeh’s mother, Holly Denine, is overwhelmed, but not surprised by how her daughter impacted people.

“It was really emotional to hear (she’s newsmaker of the year). I think it’s really great and gives your heart a little squeeze, but I’m so proud of her and everything she’s done and continuing to do, and we are working so hard to keep her legacy alive because one little idea she had has grown into a legacy that we are all trying to continue to do proud by her because that’s exactly what she would want,” Holly said.

“All of us as a group decided, that instead of mourning her loss, to celebrate her life like we try to do every day.

“On my really hard days … seeing the posts people put up about what they are doing, a random act of kindness, because of Nevaeh, stuff like that, makes it easier. I get messages from Ontario, Nova Scotia, so many different places and people, like someone saying ‘I’m putting purple and yellow Christmas lights on the house’. All over the country people tell me how much Nevaeh impacted them. There’s love and support from all over the country. She reached a lot of people and touched a lot of people. I couldn’t be prouder.”

At the Janeway Children’s Hospital, where Nevaeh spent so much time, the doctors, nurses and staff were like family. She’d often negotiate with her doctors as to when she should come in, when she should be admitted and when not.

Those who met Nevaeh can tell you her smile and giggles alone would capture your heart, and brighten up the room. Her thoughtfulness and generosity truly amazed and inspired. Meeting her meant you, unexpectedly, walked away with something great inside and you were a better person because of it.

“I always said Nevaeh was put here on Earth for a reason and right from when she was little she blew my mind, and she loved everything that was good,” Holly said. “She had a lot to be mad about and bitter about, but she was really good, and every single day she looked for something good in that day, no matter how bad it was. A lot of the time that’s how we got through.”

Nevaeh’s Lemonade Stand will become a registered charity in 2019. It was a good decision, noted Holly, but one that came with a lot of initial concern for her over whether it would continue to be what it was intended to be.

“It took a lot out of us to register the charity because you got to have a board, not just our committee, and bring other people in, and I’m very protective of it,” she said. “But we got it all figured out.

“We can never, ever forget where we come from, and the whole point of this. I don’t want it to ever change from what our initial purpose was which was to help kids with pediatric cancer like Nevaeh, to give money directly to them, not for equipment for hospitals. Put money in the family’s pocket so they could do what they need to do.”

Holly said they are hoping to hold the 2019 Nevaeh’s Lemonade Stand on July 27, Nevaeh’s birthday, to honour her. Those details are still being worked out.

Holly said in the weeks after Nevaeh’s passing she often found herself “numb”, like she didn’t have any emotion. It came from years of suppressing her emotion upon receiving bad news in order not to upset Nevaeh.

“She always had a religious side to her. She loved everything good. She loved God. And she loved heaven and I think the whole thing about it all, that made it easier, was that she was so OK with everything. Everything to her was an adventure. She was OK with everything right up to the end. And she made it a lot easier.”
Nevaeh's mother, Holly Denine

“I was trained so well in convincing somebody that nothing is wrong, when a lot of things were wrong, because I never wanted to scare her,” Holly said. “She never, ever wanted to see me upset. To see me upset really bothered her. I was so good at acting like I was fine that I’m still used to it. Nothing is the same but I have a lot of good family and friends who surround me.”

Nevaeh’s father, Joey Denine, died from cancer about four months before Nevaeh was born.

“Her dad was going through chemo and it was lucky she was conceived,” Holly said. “She was perfectly healthy. Her dad passed in March and she was born in July.

“She always had a religious side to her. She loved everything good. She loved God. And she loved heaven and I think the whole thing about it all, that made it easier, was that she was so OK with everything. Everything to her was an adventure. She was OK with everything right up to the end. And she made it a lot easier.”

Holly had always been a reluctant public speaker.

Nevaeh’s Lemonade Stand raised awareness of children’s cancer and hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the fight against it. — Aamie Gillam photo
Nevaeh’s Lemonade Stand raised awareness of children’s cancer and hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the fight against it. — Aamie Gillam photo

During the growth of Nevaeh’s Lemonade Stand and the media attention it attracted, Holly let friend Stephanie O’Brien, a local radio personality, and Nevaeh do most of the speaking.

That’s changed since Nevaeh’s death.

“For a long, long time I didn’t do any of the talking about Nevaeh. It was always Steph and Nevaeh, it wasn’t my thing,” she said. “And then after she passed, after a while, when people asked me to talk about her I couldn’t get enough of it. I just wanted to shout her name from the rooftops because I am so proud of her. I can talk about her for days because I want everyone to know about her.

“Even though she has passed away, I’m still the luckiest person in the world, you know, to be her mom. I am so lucky that I was chosen to be her mom, even though all this had to happen. It’s hard but I am so proud.

“When I think back on it, she was the teacher and I was the student. And she made me so much a better person.”

glen.whiffen@thetelegram.com

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