Teen Superhero Emma June Kent Strengthened Her Community
Editor’s Note: Emma June Kent, 17, died in October after a battle with cancer. We are honored to share her light and her impact through the hearts of EverythingBrevard CEO Tracy Stroderd, who sponsored Emma June at the Candelighters operation Superhero event, and Dr. Lauren Loftis, who led Emma June’s hospice team at VITAS Healthcare. Here they share their experiences with Emma June, in their own words.
This Is Why I Am a Doctor. Thank You, Emma June.
By Dr. Lauren Loftis, VITAS® Healthcare Medical Director
It is a rare thing to know a hero. Recently, I’ve had the privilege of spending time in the company of a hero named Emma June Kent. Emma June is a remarkable 17-year-old girl. I’ve learned so much from her about life and strength in adversity.
You might be surprised by the amount of joy and brilliance radiating from this young lady. I know I was. You might find yourself re-examining your ‘why.’ My experience of knowing and caring for Emma June has changed my life for the better and reinforced why I do this work. My experience as Emma June’s hospice doctor is one of the most amazing things I have ever had the privilege of doing. This is why I am a doctor.
Emma June has an apt surname — Kent — which she shares with a familiar comic book superhero. She, however, is not a character in a DC comic strip. She is a real-life hero. Emma June was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the age of 14 after going in for evaluation of what was thought to be a sports injury to her knee. While Superman was imbued with his crime-fighting powers and supernatural strength by the nature of his birth, Supergirl was imbued with her cancer-fighting powers and supernatural strength by the nature of the pressure cooker that is a pediatric malignancy, with the grace of her strong faith in God.
The Kent family shares Team Emma June bracelets emblazoned with Psalm 76:26: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Emma June has grown stronger than her disease. She enrolled in hospice services at 17, seizing control over her life and embodying her strong faith.
Emma June had walked through the fire of chemotherapy and radiation, only to be asked to endure an above-the-knee amputation of her affected leg. She’d been on this journey amid adolescence, in the middle of a global pandemic, and despite the myriad of treatments, her cancer had progressed and metastasized. All along, Emma June had doggedly pursued her coursework even from a hospital bed with nausea from chemo. She was courageous and dedicated to her studies.
I met Emma June during the summer before her senior year in high school. Emma June, her mom, and her brothers came to my office to meet me and talk about hospice. Let me be clear. Most grown adults run the other way when they hear a hospice doctor will be coming to speak with them. Emma June and her family tribe came to me.
When Emma June rolls into a room, you know she’s there — even from her wheelchair, her smile and energy fill the space. She wanted to meet me and my team and know if we could help her take control of the time she had left. She’d been given her hero’s cape, and she was ready to wear it. Cancer could take a hike. This was Emma June’s show now.
She wanted help with her symptoms and to live her life to the fullest. She wanted to have fun with her friends and family and be a teenager, and she was looking forward to high school graduation. I said, “Right on!” and our team at VITAS Healthcare was drafted onto Team Emma June.
Emma June spent her summer achieving her goals. We figured out a regimen to keep her symptoms at bay, and she went on a cruise vacation and several trips, including going out to Las Vegas to see Adele in concert. When school kicked back into gear this fall, Emma June was right back at it, working on her two remaining credits required for graduation. A few weeks ago, I recognized that we might not make it until May, and I had an honest conversation with Emma June and her parents. Emma June decided that she did want that high school diploma. Her parents, our team, and her supportive school district decided she deserved that high school diploma and graduation experience. After some thought, Emma June gave us all the thumbs up, and our community flew into action to pull this off for her.
Within a week, we had an avalanche of support for this event. Emma June’s church offered their sanctuary to host a full-on graduation ceremony. Gary Miracle, who lost all four limbs to sepsis after influenza, agreed to provide the invocation. Her youth pastor agreed to emcee the entire event. Her high school principal was ready to go in full regalia to bestow a diploma and facilitate the graduation ceremony. The high school orchestra provided a quartet to play pomp and circumstance. Local cheerleaders came to celebrate, and a local pilot donated his services to provide a celebratory fly-over.
There were balloons, caps, gowns, and an auditorium packed with people. It was the best graduation ceremony I have ever witnessed — and I’ve attended many. The reason it was so spectacular was Emma June. Everyone in that auditorium, and everyone tuning in online, was there to witness the miracle of graduation and to celebrate one graduate.
Everyone who attended Emma June’s graduation celebrated her achievement. When I see Emma June at 17, I see strength, grace, and wisdom far beyond her age. Her medical condition does not define her. She radiates joy for life. She has turned cancer on its tail and used it to fuel her ability to impact everyone she meets positively. Emma June made the most of her high school experience. I don’t know if I’ve ever met someone so excited about or worthy of their diploma. Seeing her roll across the stage to receive her diploma with her brothers at her side and her family in the front row was staggeringly beautiful and awe-inspiring.
Thank you, Emma June and family, for allowing our team to walk this journey with you.
Emma June Kent died on October 8, 2023, at age 17, at home surrounded by her loved ones and her VITAS hospice care team.
Meet Dr. Lauren Loftis
Lauren Loftis, MD, FAAHPM, ABFM, HMDC, is the medical director for VITAS® Healthcare in Brevard County. Dr. Loftis leads 16 physicians along with other team members who care for more than 800 hospice patients and their families. She delivers comprehensive pediatric palliative services for children facing serious illness. She also interfaces with hospitals, skilled nursing communities, and other facilities to consult and develop services for hospice and palliative care.
Sponsoring Supergirl Emma Kent
By Tracy Stroderd
Nothing happens by accident. And sponsoring Emma June Kent at the Candlelighters Operation Superhero event earlier this year was no exception.
It all started with one of our Tank Wizards employees mentioning that October was breast cancer awareness month and we as a company should get pink shirts for the team to wear during October. I loved the idea but felt it should be connected to giving back to the community. With no experience or connections to local cancer nonprofits, I reached out to photographer Jason Hook, who I knew was involved with the Superhero event. Jason connected me with Candlelighters and the rest is history.
The red-carpet event that was held at Premiere Theaters Oaks 10 in Melbourne was beyond heartwarming. Watching the sponsored children make their way into the theater with their families brought tears to my eyes. I could only imagine the journey.
During that evening’s presentation, we were blessed to see each child’s superhero movie trailer that shared intimate details of their story and battle to fight cancer. Seeing the strength and courage of these kids and their families first-hand made us realize the importance of the support that is needed for those fighting this battle.
Emma June was so sweet. She talked with us, signed our poster, and took pictures. She was grateful for the superhero experience. At the time, Wendall and I didn’t know the severity of her cancer but found ourselves inspired by her faith and determination. We knew a few of her warriors — people championing her — which made our involvement more special and not an accident. The way everything came together, we knew it was a God thing.
Sharing the experience with the Tank Wizards team was just as special. We gathered for a catered breakfast and photoshoot at the shop and shared our Emma June Superhero experience. That morning, we learned a few of our team members had either had cancer scares or had family members who had fought their own battles. This brought our work family closer together — it gave us a common purpose. Our Emma June poster hangs proudly in our office and has inspired a new motto and company culture — Because We Care.
Meet Our CEO/Publisher
Tracy Stroderd embodies the ultimate success story as an entrepreneur who brings consumers and businesses together. She is a speaker, business strategist and consultant who uses her unique combination of real-world entrepreneurial experience and formal business education to champion small-business success. Her love for working with entrepreneurs and making an impact in her community stems from growing up in a small town where she was born into the world of entrepreneurship.
Tracy earned a master of arts in administration from Barry University, where she has taught services marketing. She is a trained facilitator and mentor for the IGNITE 360 Mentoring Program at weVENTURE Women’s Business Center powered by Florida Institute of Technology. She has taught in the entrepreneurship program at Eastern Florida State College. Tracy has served on the executive committee/board of directors at the Greater Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce. She has served on this board since 2017 and was the chairwoman from 2018-2020.
In 2022, Tracy launched a Toastmasters International Club at the Greater Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce and was recognized with a Club President Award in recognition of dedicated service and outstanding leadership.