Makeup is my wig

UB student takes inspiration from Talia Castellano's story

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The Spectrum

She could not verbalize anything. Laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to tubes and needles, bone-thin from not eating for five days, makeup blogger Talia Castellano held onto Lizzy Lenchner's hand.

She opened her eyes for a few moments, looked at Lenchner and smirked. Castellano, 13, was falling victim to childhood cancer.

Castellano died two weeks later. The YouTube star met Lenchner, a junior psychology major, at Sunrise Day Camp, the only day camp in America dedicated to children with cancer. Lenchner was a counselor. The two became close. She learned important life lessons from Castellano, and she is adamant and determined to spread those to the UB community.

She has already made an impact with the help of her sorority.

Last fall, Lenchner held a philanthropy event for Phi Sigma Sigma to promote awareness of childhood cancer; it was the most successful Greek philanthropy event last year, raising over $2,000.

Lenchner said a lot of college students focus on partying as their "No. 1 priority."

"They don't realize there's so much more to life than just that," she said. "They need to see that people out there have it worse than them and your life can change in a heartbeat and you really need to appreciate what you have. And yeah, it's important to live in the moment, but that's not the only thing you should be doing."

Castellano influenced millions; her YouTube account has more than 45 million views and 1 million subscribers. Before her death, she was featured in CoverGirl magazine and on Ellen Degeneres' daytime talk show.

Castellano had neuroblastoma, the most common extra cranial solid in childhood cancer. Approximately 650 cases are recorded each year in America, according to Norman J. Lacayo, author of Pediatric Neuroblastoma.September is pediatric cancer awareness month.

Lenchner worked as a counselor at Sunrise Day Camp two summers before attending UB. Castellano made her way to Lenchner's group. Lenchner did not expect her 11-year-old camper to completely alter the way she viewed the world.

Castellano latched onto Lenchner and fellow counselor Pamela Glassman.

"She would rather hang out with us than any of the other campers," Lenchner said. "She was 11 years old hanging out with 18- and 20-year-olds and she was mature beyond her years."

At the time, Castellano was just launching her YouTube account, in which she gave in-depth tutorials of applying mascara, eye shadow and other makeup, gave reviews of different types of makeup and shared her personality with everyone who viewed her series.

Castellano asked older girls at camp about their dating lives and was quick to give beauty advice, like what shade of lipstick would bring out Lenchner's skin tone.

Victoria Putter, a Sunrise Day Camp counselor, said Castellano would put makeup on her head - most famously when she spelled out "makeup is my wig" - because she had no hair. She constantly wanted to do everyone else's hair.

Castellano battled cancer for six years. She did not allow her disease to get in the way of her life, though - not at camp and not at home.

She was losing her hair due to the intensive chemotherapy, but she flaunted her passion for makeup, fashion and beauty. She did not let any negative comments keep her from posting her videos.

Castellano's YouTube tutorials were getting more hits each week. During the beginning stages of her show, she only discussed makeup and fashion. After receiving many messages from fans asking why she was bald, Castellano decided to start incorporating her cancer story into the videos.

Lenchner said Castellano had a bit of sass and spunk, and she fearlessly shared details of her life with the world.

YouTube called Castellano before she passed away and asked if it could pay her for all of the subscribers she received.

"Talia's makeup tutorials were packed with enthusiasm and her personality," said Amanda Katz, a UB alumna and 2010 president of Phi Sigma Sigma. "Seriously, that girl was talented and as someone who can't apply makeup, it was admirable."

Katz has faith that Lenchner will successfully share Castellano's story and faith with the UB community. Lenchner wants to spread the message that there is more to life than partying and even school.

Lenchner said Degeneres deserves thanks for making many of Castellano's dreams come true during her final years. She believes Degeneres' gestures and Castellano's fan base, close friends and family helped her hold on.

"Her dad even said having so many fans - even though she never met them, just knowing how many people were rooting for her to get better and were praying for her and everything - gave her another reason to fight harder," Lenchner said. "But I think it all came down to her coming to peace with the fact that she knew she made an impact and touched so many people that she was able to let her soul rest and be free of all the chemicals that were keeping her body functioning. She lived more in the past year than most people do in a lifetime."

Castellano's ability to stay positive and continue to make people around her laugh throughout her battle with cancer inspires Lenchner to host more philanthropy events at UB.

Before Castellano passed away, a Facebook page called "Angels for Talia" was created so family, friends and fans could post about her state, write about how inspirational she was and share photos of her.

Two weeks before Castellano passed, Lenchner visited her in her Orlando hospital. On July 16, Lenchner received the text message that made her heart melt and her body go numb. Angels for Talia reported that Castellano had earned her wings to fly and that she had passed away.

Lenchner was in shock and denial, she said, and could not accept that one of her best friends had just passed away so shortly after she held her hand at the hospital.

When she appeared on Degeneres' show, Castellano was asked how she stays so positive.

"When people ask me that, what do you want me to do, be depressed?" Castellano said. "I mean, a little fishy told me, 'Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.'"

Castellano swam as long as she could and inspired millions via her videos and personality. Her legacy continues to thrive through the Angels for Talia Facebook page and the social media attention she is receiving.

Fashion designer Urbana Chappa found Castellano's Instagram account and followed the makeup guru prior to her passing.

Chappa, who is a cancer survivor, helped Castellano start a fashion line.

"Talia always wanted her clothing to be sold in stores that kids can actually afford, like Target and Walmart," Lenchner said. "The line is in Talia's legacy."

Lenchner wants to help with Chappa's clothing line and hopes to volunteer for organizations that help promote children's cancer awareness.

Her goal is to spread Castellano's hope and ensure the UB community receives her message.

Email: features@ubspectrum.com