When Carly Delong was only about 10 years old, she already had a passion for following stories of children battling childhood cancer. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be a pediatric oncologist, but in the meantime, she had plans for how she could directly help lift these patients’ spirits.
“It was like she was placed in this world to be that person or that child who had an impact no matter what she did,” says Dr. Lisa Delong, Carly’s mom and a physician at Physicians and Surgeons for Women in Springfield. “She just always was driven. Driven to be good at school. Driven to be good at the things she did, no matter what it was. She always had goals and set out to make them happen, no matter what she did.”
A short but determined life
When Carly was in kindergarten, Delong says she decided she wanted to learn to swim. She took lessons and joined the SPY swim team at the Springfield Family YMCA.
After several years, Carly told Delong she was done swimming and wanted to try volleyball. Though she’d never played, she tried out and walked onto a local team.
“She just had this desire for live life, and she did things her way,” Delong says. “She had this determination and desire to just be her. She had a huge smile and love for life and didn’t let any soft of things of this world get in the way.”
Carly would come to need that inner strength and determined spirit more than anyone would know at the time.
When Carly was 14 years old, she was a freshman on her school’s varsity volleyball team. She had a great start to her season, but things quickly went downhill.
Carly started having pain in her back, legs and knees, making it difficult for her to play. Doctors decided she needed a limb-lengthening procedure.
They scheduled surgery during winter break in 2015, and she and Delong headed to New York for the procedure.
However, during pre-surgery testing, Carly’s white blood cell count came back elevated, which caused the surgery to be cancelled. So, they drove home on Christmas Eve, thinking at the time maybe Carly had mono.
But, through the next week, her condition got much worse.
“By New Year’s Eve, she could barely get out of bed and looked terrible. I took her to the hospital for fluids, because we thought maybe she had the flu,” Delong remembered.
When the hospital rechecked Carly’s blood, her white-count numbers were significantly higher than they had been just the week earlier.
“I knew then that we had a problem, so I took her straight down to Dayton Children’s (Hospital) that day,” Delong says. “She was diagnosed that day, and we spent a week at Children’s doing pretesting and getting started.”
Carly was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
She started treatments that were planned to last between nine months and a year. The goal was to go into remission then continue on maintenance therapy.
“When she was first diagnosed, she didn’t understand why everyone was making such a big deal out of it. She’d say, ‘They’re going to give me medicine. I’m going to get better and get back to doing what I would normally do,’” Delong says, adding that Carly continued going volleyball and spinning classes because she never wanted to take anything for granted.
Carly pushed through and finished her regular therapy plan. She was in remission and had been to a doctor’s visit where her doctor spoke with her about how well she was doing.
But then suddenly, everything changed.
A night later, Carly told Delong before bed that she didn’t feel well and that something was wrong. During the middle of the night, they went to the hospital because Carly was so sick.
Carly had a bad infection and was admitted to the intensive care unit. No one knew that one of Carly’s chemotherapy drugs had damaged her heart. It wasn’t strong enough for her to fight through the infection, and Carly passed away 48 hours after going to the hospital. That was three years ago yesterday, Sept. 23, 2017.
Growing into GLO
When Carly first took an interest in children fighting cancer, it was long before she knew that was a challenge she herself would face. She was inspired by a YouTube video, in which girls facing cancer were getting their nails done.
Carly loved doing makeup. She and her friends would play with different styles and lighting and take pictures.
She wanted to use those passions to help lift the spirits of girls fighting cancer locally.
Before her diagnosis, Carly worked to design a program that she wanted to make into a nonprofit. She created a website, had donors lined up, was working on a logo and wanted to call the organization “IVs and Eye Shadow,” Delong says.
Carly wanted to go to medical school at Stanford University in California, and though she planned to start her program locally, she wanted to be able to expand and take it with her when she went to college, Delong says.
“When she got sick, everything got put on the back burner,” Delong says. “We didn’t do anything the whole year she was sick and going through treatments. The whole program got stopped.”
But after Carly passed, Delong says she knew she needed to continue her youngest daughter’s dream.
“It gave me a purpose and helped me in the healing process knowing I could continue. I didn’t want her spirit and the things she had done to end there,” Delong says.
So, in March 2018, Delong set up the Carly Faye Foundation. The foundation started by raising money for scholarships and connected with a 5K at Catholic Central High School that had initially been organized before Carly’s death to support paying for medical bills. The event has now become the annual Shamrock Carly Faye 5K and is the foundation’s biggest fundraiser.
In addition to the scholarships, some of that funding has been able to turn Carly’s dream for helping cancer patients into a reality.
Delong – along with her other children Lauren and Robby, Carly’s former nanny, and some close friends – have built the program that will now be called GLO – Girls Lifting Others.
“I think it fits so wonderfully because my goal is that not only the patients – the girls battling cancer – that they can have a day lifted up and feel beautiful,” Delong says. “But I also want the girls there involved in the program – the girls applying the makeup – to be able to meet these girls and make a connection and have an idea of what these girls are going through and appreciate both the patient’s journey and what they themselves have.”
Springfield-based Shiftology Communication is providing GLO’s media and marketing services free of charge. And GLO is partnering with a local Crunchi cosmetics advocate so the foundation can purchase a box of full-size makeup to be used for each girl’s makeover that she can then keep to use in the future.
Delong says she felt it was important to use only makeup products that are toxin-free.
The foundation also has teamed with five local photographers who will donate their time to photograph the girls following their makeovers and provide the portrait files to their families.
The teenage girls who will be doing GLO makeovers are getting trained and will each have a boutique certificate, and Delong says GLO is ready to launch into hospitals – starting with Dayton Children’s – as soon as COVID-19 restrictions allow.
Longterm, Delong hopes to expand from Dayton into Columbus and Cincinnati. She plans to move to California next year and hopes to expand there also, just like Carly had hoped to do.
“I would love to see this thing just take off and become a huge success,” Delong says. “The way Carly does things, even now, it wouldn’t surprise me if it just blew up. I just feel like she is there every step of the way – just the little things and how it all just falls into place.
“I truly believe that Carly lived the life she was supposed to live. It’s hard to say because as a mom I want her here with me, but I believe she was given a life to live and a purpose, and she fulfilled that purpose here.”
Delong says Carly’s vision was to build girls up who were fighting cancer, and that with GLO she’s glad to be able to take Carly’s dream a step further by building up and empowering girls in general.
“I have to believe she’s smiling and knows this was her plan and this was the way it was supposed to be,” Delong says. “She’s there. I feel it every step of the way with this, and I know she’s proud of me for picking things up and keeping things going, and I’m sure this is what she would have wanted.
“Carly’s passions were education, volleyball and helping cancer patients. It just so happens that her passions turned into her life story.”