GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A 12-year-old girl who brought so many together through strength and selflessness while living with brain cancer passed away Sunday. Living and inspiring by her own words, "Never give up. Keep on Smiling!" Samantha Bannister will always be remembered in part as #TeamTinyDancer.
"She always cared about everyone else," said Sami's mother Angela Bannister on Monday. "She had a big heart."
Sami began sharing her fight against brain cancer publicly in March 2015, when her father Jeremiah shared a video of her speaking from her hospital bed after an extensive surgery that removed more than 50 percent of her brain tumor. What began as a 'thank you' message from Sami, surrounded by her stuffed animals, turned into endless inspiration.
"Thank you for my stuffed animals, but I hope you're not too worried about me, everyone, because I'll do okay," said Sami into the camera. "I'll make sure that I do fine."
Wise words beyond her then 10 years, Jeremiah said his daughter first took him by surprise. Until her last days, Sami's selfless strength and spirit inspired too many people to count, including a public speaker who she met along the way in Washington, D.C., recently diagnosed with cancer himself. Jeremiah said Sami called him from the hospital.
"He was weeping and she told him, 'I am so sorry that you have cancer like me, but it's okay, you can do this. You need to fight hard, don't ever give up. And keep on smiling,'" recalled Jeremiah. "And at the end she said, 'Bobby, you have my heart.'"
Named Make-a-Wish Michigan ambassador in November 2015, one day later, one of Sami's wishes came true when she traveled to London with her family. Not once, her parents said, did Sami ask "Why me?" Instead, her words became the mantra of many: "Never give up. Keep on smiling!"
"We had some of the most difficult and painful conversations, things that I wish I never had to do," said Jeremiah. "But I'm grateful, if for no other reason, that I went through it with her."
Strong from when doctors thought she would never walk, and then Sami roller-skated. Until her last moments, at home with her family, she communicated with a push and pull of her weaker leg.
"She said she wasn't scared, and that she trusted," said Jeremiah. "And then there wasn't any more movement."
The Bannisters are holding public memorial services, including Sami's memorial at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids. A potluck reception will follow the service. Her family asks that you bring food and welcome you to come dressed in character, as viking, princess, you name it, as Sami would have wanted.