There is a light at the end of the tunnel for a young cancer patient from Western New York. Eleven-year-old Stella Usiak of North Tonawanda has won a national contest that will allow her to meet her idol, singer Taylor Swift.
"It's like a big dream, but it's real," said Usiak, speaking to reporters at Roswell Park Cancer Institute on Thursday.
Usiak has fought acute lymphoblastic leukemia for four years, a battle that included a relapse. Last year, the sixth grader entered a contest called "This is How I Shake It Off!," named after Swift's hit song. Her essay to Swift was chosen as the grand prize winner out of more than 45,000 entries in a Scholastic Reading Club contest.
"You are an awesome role model for not letting bad things get you down, and I can't let cancer get me down because I'm just going to shake it off," read Usiak, as part of her essay.
"The whole time I've listened to your records to feel better and, as I sing along, trying to shake off all the sick feelings that happen in treatment."
Stella says Taylor Swift's comforting and inspirational music has helped her get through her difficult ordeal, which will include a bone marrow transplant later this year. She talked about what the song 'Shake It Off' means to her.
"It means when you're going through a tough time, you just shake it off, all the bad feelings," Usiak said. "It means a lot."
Stella's mother, Jennifer Usiak, says Swift has a special connection with her young fans.
"She goes in to see cancer patients all the time, sick kids in hospitals. She really has a soft spot in her heart, a true kindness," said Usiak. "That's something that's very rare when you get to be a superstar."
Stella's meeting with the pop star will come at a concert later this year, after she undergoes her transplant. She says she dreams of being a singer like her idol when she grows up. But if that doesn't happen, she says she would like to be a nurse, like the ones she has grown close to at Roswell Park.
WBFO's Avery Schneider contributed to this report.