Princess Lillie remembered with butterfly release

Julie Mobley, Cheryl Haynes, Dennis Haynes, Kelly Handley, Gabe and Garret Handley and Summer Speegle pose for a photo at Cullman Regional. (Sara Gladney for the Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The staff of Cullman Internal Medicine and the family of Lillie Handley, 8, of Holly Pond, who passed away last August following a long battle with cancer, organized a memorial butterfly release on Thursday, Aug. 18, in Lillie’s memory. Butterflies were a favorite of Lillie’s, along with princesses and red lipstick. The butterfly release was held at Cullman Regional to surprise Lillie’s grandmother, Cheryl Haynes, at her office.

Haynes said she visits Lillie’s grave as often as possible. Even if she cannot go until after work, she brings a flashlight and visits with her granddaughter.

Thursday, everyone opened individual envelopes containing the butterflies, shipped in from Clearwater Butterfly in Florida, and watched in awe as they fluttered in the air above their heads. Hayes said when she sees red birds, blue birds and butterflies, she knows Lillie is always nearby.

Lillie was diagnosed with stage 3 intermediate risk neuroblastoma in May 2016 at the age of 3. By the age of 7, she had beaten cancer three times. Unfortunately, in November 2020, the disease had progressed, and the family was told that nothing more could be done for Lillie that would not cause more harm.

Lillie became fondly known as Princess Lillie throughout the community, and a Princess Lillie Party was thrown in her honor annually for four years. The first princess party was held at Cullman Regional with Haynes’ fellow office staff.

Administrator Julie Mobley said on Thursday, “We are honored that your family shared her with us and let us love her.”

In the time they had left with their princess, the Handley family attempted to make her every wish come true. The princess parties started after Lillie was able to visit Walt Disney World when her wish was granted by Make-A-Wish Foundation. She fell in love with all things Disney and especially all things Disney princess.

In July 2021, approximately 800 people came together to form a parade for Lillie in Holly Pond. People came in cars, on motorcycles, in carriages, in limousines and on horseback. Some traveled more than 100 miles when they heard the call. Fire trucks came from Cullman, Blount and Marshall counties.

Kelly Handley and her daughter, Lillie Handley, are seen on July 21, 2021, at a parade thrown for Lillie in Holly Pond. (Karlie Patterson for The Cullman Tribune)

Lillie’s favorite doctor, Giselle Sholler from Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, began a memorial fund for cancer research in remembrance of Lillie.

Haynes said, “Anything that went wrong, she (Lillie) would tell (her mom) Kelly, ‘Just call my favorite doctor; she knows what to do.’”

To make a donation in Lillie’s memory , use this link and put “Princess Lillie Handley” in the message line:

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