On Wednesday morning, the Michigan State fan base shrunk by one incredibly large and indomitable spirit. Sometime in the early hours, Lacey Holsworth died from her illness according to a twitter post and message from her family.
It's been two years since Michigan State basketball star Adreian Payne first met Lacey, an 8-year-old cancer patient known as "Princess Lacey". Back then, Payne was younger, more immature, and a bit more troubled, with a tendency to get into trouble off the court, including being involved with a brawl with teammate Branden Dawson at a Penn State hotel room that saw the police called.
Since meeting Lacey, though, Payne has become an incredible team player and a role model for his fellow athletes and for individuals throughout the NCAA, as well. The two met years back when Payne was meeting with cancer patients in the hospital and they immediately struck it off as friends. Lacey became a huge supporter of Payne and the Michigan State Spartans, following their success over the last few seasons, and becoming a vocal and visual level of support at many of the Spartans' games recently.
Lacey could be seen being carried around on Payne's shoulders during senior night at the Breslin this year and even helped Payne cut down the net after the Spartans defeated the Wolverines to take the Big Ten Tournament Championship. She was also given a hat and posed with the rest of the team after the game.
Holsworth suffered from neuroblastoma, a fetal-nerve cell cancer that eventually caused her death. She wore a blond wig due to her having lost her hair to chemotherapy, and the wig became a recognizable symbol of her struggle with the illness.
Earlier this year, it was thought that the cancer had been eradicated and that Lacey had beaten it, but just two days after being wheeled out of surgery, a familiar pain in Lacey's jaw returned and tests confirmed the worst: her cancer had returned and she was not likely to survive. Payne rushed to her side and stayed with her after a team visit had ended, at her request. She said that she "liked his smile."
"I guess she could feel my spirit," said Payne. The young star player was no stranger to heartache. His own mother passed away when he was only 13, taking her last breath and dying in his arms; the struggles of a lonely childhood were all-too-familiar for the Spartan.
Recently, Payne spoke to The Detroit News about how large of a role Lacey had taken in his life, echoing the magnitude of the loss the star must be feeling now.
"She is such a huge part of my life," Payne told the newspaper. "And she grew to be part of my family."
Though Payne has yet to comment on the loss, fellow star Gary Harris did take to twitter in the early hours of Wednesday morning right after he heard the news, saying, "Wow i dont even wanna believe it @adorablelacey 's family is in my prayers. I know she will be watching over us all #RIPLACEY"
Lacey was there as the Spartans fell to eventual national champs, Connecticut, in the Elite Eight and even traveled to Texas to watch Payne compete in the College Slam Dunk Contest during Final Four weekend in Dallas shortly after.
At around 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, an Instagram account named missprincesslacey posted this message: “Princess Lacey has achieved the ultimate victory. She now dances among angels.... The world is a better place because you were in it. Our hearts are broken. We love you Doll. Dance all night... Mommy and Daddy, Will, Mitchell and Luke #LoveLikeLacey”
You can follow writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.