Melissa Ledesma, a 4-year-old Brookfield girl whose battle with cancer touched the lives of people in the village and beyond, died Oct. 5.
Melissa, who was born at Adventist LaGrange Memorial Hospital in 2011, was flown to her parents’ native Paraguay for burial.
On Oct. 19, Melissa’s uncle, Juan Felipe Rosales, announced the news and thanked all of those who supported family, donated money and tied red ribbons to trees as a show of solidarity with the family.
“We are deeply touched by the community for everything that has been done to help Melissa and remember her,” Rosales wrote. “This is the saddest time in our life, but please know your kind words and expressions of sympathy are of great comfort to us.”
In the months before her death, Melissa’s family worked to raise awareness about childhood cancer and spread the word about the importance of living a life of impact and joy.
Rosales, who was also Melissa’s godfather, says his niece left a legacy of teaching young and old what it means to stay strong regardless of whatever life hands you. Despite scary diagnoses and painful treatments, Rosales says Melissa’s resilience has been a lesson to others on how to always maintain a positive spirit.
“She always had a smile on her face and lived like nothing was going on, which is a remarkable thing for a 4 year old to do,” Rosales said in an interview. “She just lived like a little girl that was having fun.”
Rosales says his family decided to go public with Ledesma’s battle not for attention, but simply out of love.
In late August, Melissa’s family and Brookfield neighbors rallied together at a block party to fundraise for Melissa’s care. While the family was able to raise money tens of thousands of dollars through a campaign on crowd-funding website, other support came via the attention of Chelsea Gates, an online sports reporter for Chicago-based 120Sports.com.
After hearing of Melissa’s battle against cancer, Gates publicly campaigned for Melissa, an effort that helped grab the attention of Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and Jim Cantelupe, a finance executive who also spent a couple of season on the Bears’ roster.
According to Gates’ website, Urlacher and Cantelupe split the cost for Melissa’s family to visit Disney World in September. Both also reportedly donated $25,000 apiece to the fund set up to pay for Melissa’s care.
“They’re forever dear friends and I will always remember them, not just for their generosity, but because they understood the fight and were there every step of the way,” Rosales said.
Through power of social media, Melissa’s story was able to reach across the United States and to South America and Europe. Rosales said he hoped that the story of his niece’s courage would serve as an example for children fighting cancer everywhere.
“She never showed any signs of weakness [and] never showed signs of being angry,” Rosales said. “She didn’t want anybody to get hurt and just wanted everybody to act normal in front of her. One time, she told her mom she wasn’t ready to leave her yet. She saw her mom cry a lot and would tell her ‘Don’t worry!'”
In order to remember Melissa and continue to raise awareness about childhood cancer, Rosales said the family is looking to plan a public memorial within the next few weeks.
“I made friends that I never had 10 months ago that call me every day and ask me what are we going to be doing for Melissa? I want to thank everybody from the community that partook in this great fight for Melissa. She might not be with us right here, but in spirit, she will always be here.”