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‘Just keep swimming’: Cancer warrior Talia Castellano’s legacy

July 21, 2013
Talia Castellano

Talia Castellano

After a five-year battle with illness, YouTube star, beauty guru and cancer warrior Talia Castellano died on July 16.

She was a 13-year-old girl, but she was more like a fairy. With her tiny frame, bright eyes, and rainbow-hued makeup, Talia certainly looked the part.

She didn’t have supernatural powers, but that didn’t stop her from making magic. Despite battling two forms of cancer — neuroblastoma and leukemia — Talia was the epitome of her second name, Joy.

“Cancer doesn’t stand a chance against Talia because Talia, she overall won. She won this battle because her name and her footprints and handprints are left all over this world, and that’s what she really wanted to accomplish,” Talia’s older sister Mattia said in a video posted on YouTube.

‘Makeup is my wig’

After Talia was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, she would spend time with Tammy DeLaRosa, a cancer survivor and family friend.

It was at DeLaRosa’s house where Talia first discovered makeup. Talia had arrived early, and she watched Dela Rosa put on her makeup. “I have drawers and cabinets and stuff full of makeup and she just started going through them and pulling them out, and then she asked me if I would put makeup on her and so I started putting makeup on her,” DeLaRosa shared on Room Tour with designer Rebecca Robeson.

Experimenting with makeup became their main activity. Talia developed a real passion for it, and eventually began posting regular tutorials on YouTube. The young beauty guru gained thousands of followers, who would learn not only about makeup, but about her disease.

Talia, who was bald, didn’t like wigs, and liked to say that makeup was her wig. “When I have on a wig, I feel not fake, but just not me. So when I put on my make up I feel like I can embrace those features that I really like about myself and feel that if someone’s looking at me they’re looking at my makeup they’re not looking at my bald head,” she said in a tribute video posted by Florida’s Blood Centers.

Inspiring others

Talia’s optimism inspired both children and adults. “If you spent five minutes with Talia, you don’t see cancer. You see strength, and you see such tenacity and such courage,” family friend Jill Walden, whose son was diagnosed with brain cancer, said on Room Tour, in which Talia’s bedroom was given a makeover as a surprise after a month-long hospital stay.

Michelle Hartog, also a family friend, shared how Talia helped her after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. “When I started losing my hair I remember Talia telling me, ‘Miss Michelle, you just need to be proud and be bald because that proves that’s your badge of being a survivor’,” she said.

Talia’s mother, Desiree, shared that creating YouTube videos inspired others, and was also therapy for Talia.

“It was something fun… something that she saw other kids were doing. She really started getting into it… just one thing after another and because she is bald, people I think were really watching her a little bit more, and she just took that to another level and just started talking about her cancer and then from there it just took off,” she said.

Just keep swimming

In 2012, Ellen DeGeneres asked Talia how she remained positive despite the cancer.

“When people ask me that I’m just, what do you want me to do, be depressed? A little fishy told me ‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming,'” Talia said, quoting from Finding Nemo’s incurable optimist Dory, who was voiced by DeGeneres.

“I don’t think you could ever find somebody who handles it the way she does. She just has an ability to just not allow it to get her down and just moves on,” her stepfather Larry said on Room Tour.

Her mother shared that although Talia was aware of the reality, she always said she wanted to leave her fingerprints and footprints behind.

“She said you know, ‘What do you want me to do, be depressed? I’m going to live my day to the fullest,'” she said.

Talia’s death was mourned by her fans and followers, who posted tributes online. “In her 13 years, Talia made much more than most people do in their entire life,” read one post on YouTube.

“This year I met a very special girl, and today we lost her. Sending my heart to Talia’s family. I’m so sad,” DeGeneres said on Twitter.

Many of her fans paid tribute by helping fulfill Talia’s bucket list, which was posted on her Facebook page. The list had 74 items, including covering a car with sticky notes and dancing in the rain. Several of the items had already been ticked off by July 20, Daily Mail reported.

Meanwhile, Talia’s sister Mattia said that their family would make sure that Talia’s name lived on. “We’re going to leave her legacy all over the world,” she said.

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