Adreian Payne and Lacey Holsworth
04/09/2014 at 10:00 AM EDT
, the inspiring 8-year-old girl with cancer who befriended Michigan State basketball star Adreian Payne, has died.
Her father Matt Holsworth said Lacey died at their St. Johns, Mich., home late Tuesday "with her mommy and daddy holding her in their arms."
"Please don't let her love and smile fade," Holsworth told the Associated Press in a text message.
Lacey met Payne during one of her hospital stays two years ago, and their friendship quickly blossomed. When it was Payne's turn to be honored during Senior Night, the 6'10" center scooped up Lacey and carried her around the court. He did it again in Indianapolis after Michigan State won the Big Ten tournament, and the little girl with the blond wig was there when he took part in a recent slam-dunk competition.
"She loved unconditionally and without hesitation," Holsworth said, "spreading her smile and love throughout the world."
The little girl affectionately known as "Princess Lacey" had neuroblastoma, a fetal-nerve cell cancer. She wore a blond wig because chemotherapy took her hair.
A post on the MissPrincessLacey Instagram page
, says, "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"
Lacey watched Michigan State's NCAA tournament run from the stands. After Payne scored a career-high 41 points to help Michigan State beat Delaware in one tournament game, Payne talked as much about what his performance meant to Lacey as it did to the Spartans.
"It's like having a family member who's really sick," he said. "The only thing you can do is play basketball. You can't be there with them. Just knowing that when I play well, it makes her happy. It feels like I'm doing something, in a way, to make her feel better."
Back pain while dancing in 2011 led to the discovery of a football-size tumor that had engulfed her kidney. After another tumor wrapped around her spine, her father had to carry her into a hospital on Dec. 28, 2011. She lost feeling below her belly button and couldn't walk on her own for several months, a long stretch that included the first of many visits from Payne.