Alayna Shelley was grinning ear to ear Friday night as she hugged her favorite star, Selena Gomez.
The hug came after the Northland teen had spent a rough four months battling leukemia.
Alayna knew she had received free tickets to the Sprint Center concert — not that she would meet Gomez before it began.
Still, she found herself able to talk to the singer about her fight with the disease and give her an “Alayna Strong” bracelet, which Gomez put on.
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Despite the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the concert and meeting were something of a return to normal teenage life for Alayna, who had never been to a concert before.
And she was able to arrive in style, taking a limo that was arranged along with the tickets by the Hudson Project, a local charity.
Alayna, who just turned 14, is a triplet (with Jack and Emma).
Her diagnosis came in March. Her mother, Liana Shelley, said things started to move very quickly once the doctors discovered it was leukemia.
Shelley quit her job when it became clear that this would be a long battle.
Now Alayna and her family, which includes 10-year-old Amanda, have adjusted to a new normal. Alayna is at the hospital often and has gone through several rounds of chemotherapy. She has lost her hair and wears a wig when she’s out.
If she is around lots of people, like she was Friday, she has to wear a mask because she can’t risk getting a cold. She planned to put it on for the concert itself.
Since her diagnosis four months ago, she’s had four stays in the hospital, but she was able to finish her eighth grade coursework at home. She doesn’t know if she will be able to attend high school in August or if she will be home-schooled as treatments continue.
The Shelleys said Alayna’s treatment has had a lot of ups and downs so far, including fevers, infections and an allergic reaction to a new type of chemo.
“They kept saying, ‘Oh, this won’t happen,’ and then it would happen to me,” Alayna said.
Her parents said Alayna has been incredibly brave during the entire process.
When it became clear that the treatments would become expensive, friends and family started contributing through a GoFundMe page set up for Alayna. They have continued to be amazed by the amount of support and help they have been offered by friends, family and total strangers.
Strangers like Dennis Gremillion, who heard about Alayna through his dogs’ vet and who runs the Hudson Project.
Gremillion started the charity two years ago while his wife, now deceased, was fighting cancer. He saw firsthand the struggles that families went through while taking on the often huge cost of cancer.
The Hudson Project typically handles practical matters for the families. It will pay bills or make meals, and it made a contribution to the Shelleys to help with expenses.
Gremillion said the Hudson Project only does fun gifts when it can secure a donor. So he purchased the two concert tickets with his own money and arranged for two members of the Kansas City Police Department’s canine unit to deliver the tickets to Alayna.
He said that for young cancer patients it’s a hard adjustment, especially at the beginning. He hopes the tickets can help her have some normalcy.