UPDATE: Toni Black Passes; Vigil Held

By: Carrie Cline; Andrew Colegrove Email
By: Carrie Cline; Andrew Colegrove Email

UPDATE: 4/9/12 @ 10 p.m.
CHESAPEAKE, Ohio (WSAZ) -- Friends, family, and total strangers paid tribute to a young woman who was able to reach into the hearts of thousands.

At just 23 years old, Toni Black passed away a little before noon Monday.

Monday night friends and the community gathered outside Chesapeake High School for a candlelight vigil, where they reflected on what it was about Toni Black that made her stand out.

"If I could say anything about her, it's her faith in God,” Toni’s friend Brittany Jeffers said. “She fought through this unlike anything I've ever seen in my life."

Communities across the region stood together April 3 to cheer on Toni Black as she made the trip home from the hospital.

The estimate was at least 12 thousand people lined I-64 and Route 60 from Kanawha County all the way to Toni's hometown.

She came home to Chesapeake, Ohio last Tuesday from North Carolina after her doctors said the treatment for her lung and brain cancer wasn't working.

Her friends told her story, and that story spread, which led to those thousands of people lining up along the route home.

She'd been battling the disease since March of 2011.

"She always smiled and acted like nothing was wrong with her and took it day by day," Madison Smith said.

Monday night the crowd outside Chesapeake High prayed, sang “Amazing Grace,” and shared memories of Toni.

"Toni has made my life better,” Jeffers said. “These past few weeks I've just been thinking about her and trying to live my life as if every day could be my last, because none of us know."

UPDATE 4/9/12 @ 3:25 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- After a long battle with cancer Toni Black has passed away.

Family friends tell WSAZ.com that Toni passed before noon on Monday.

The 23-year-old came home last Tuesday after doctors said the treatment for her brain and lung cancer was no longer working.

Hundreds of people lined Interstate 64 and Route 60 to welcome her home.

A vigil is planned to be held at Chesapeake High School Monday night at 8 p.m.

UPDATE 4/3/12 @ 10 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A family returned to a find a moving tribute waiting for them from the Kanawha Valley to southern Ohio Tuesday night.

Toni Black is a 23-year-old in the fight for life against cancer. It started in her lungs and quickly spread to her brain.

Recently doctors at the hospital at Duke University stopped Toni's treatment when her cancer no longer responded.

Thanks largely to the power of social media, thousands of people were waiting to wave and cheer for Toni along her homecoming route.

When Toni and her family arrived in Cross Lanes, they switched from their car to a limousine and were escorted by police and a motorcycle brigade.

Crowds waited for the brigade in spots all along their route, including Hurricane, Milton, and Huntington.

Tami Blankenship, like many she was joining, had never met Toni, but she became a part of Team Toni and was among hundreds of people lined up on Route 60 in Huntington.

"I think it's her perseverance against trying to beat the deadly disease of cancer and her love of Christ that's brought us all together as a community," Blankenship said.

A crowd of hundreds dressed in Team Toni shirts with signs and balloons awaited Toni in her hometown of Chesapeake.

"It's a touching thing to see everybody pull together for such a great cause and for such a great kid,” Bryan Lee, who helped organize the event in Lawrence County, said. “You couldn't ask for a better person."

When Toni completed her trip, the Lawrence County Commission presented her with an honorary award making Tuesday “Toni Black Day.”

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Bringing Toni home -- it was only one year ago that Toni Black was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was just 22, and that cancer quickly spread to her brain.

We caught up with Toni last September when she honored several of her friends as WSAZ.com Hometown Heroes for their support during her sickness.

"My spirits are pretty high," Toni said. "It doesn't bother me. I mean, a lot of people have cancer, and I'm just one of them. I just deal with it day by day."

But, after a year of chemotherapy and radiation with little results, doctors have stopped all treatment.

On Tuesday, Toni returns home from the hospital at Duke University, but not without a proper homecoming. What started out as an idea to welcome her home with a few signs along the roads to her home has taken on a life of its own.

From Charleston, W.Va., to Chesapeake, Ohio, thousands of folks have joined Team Toni for a homecoming brigade.

It's a day so big that even 100.5 WKEE FM radio has joined the efforts.

“If you log onto our Facebook page, you'll see we've totally transformed it to Team Toni,” Tia Fletcher said. “Toni represents more than one person. She represents anyone whose battled it, survived it, lost, and we're just proud to be a part. We really just jumped on something that was already established."

Students and staff at St. Joseph Grade School are showing their love for Team Toni through signs and wearing her colors -- pink and navy. The students each paid a dollar to dress down from their uniforms on Tuesday.

The money will go to Toni and her family. It was the idea of fifth-grader Isaiah Meade, who's never met her.

“I heard all over Facebook that Toni Black had brain and lung cancer and was only 23, and I thought I could raise a lot of money to help her,” Isaiah said.

The school will present a photo and a banner to Toni showing their love.

The efforts stretch far and wide from banners along Interstate 64 from Charleston to Barboursville. Toni and her family will be riding in style in a limousine, enjoying fans and signs all along the way from U.S. 60 over to Ohio along the road home -- now named Toni Black Boulevard. And once Toni reaches her house, there will be more pink and a special welcome home from a dear friend and the woman who started it all -- Jill Stapleton-Greenhill.

“I built this garden for Toni and Tammy, so they’d have somewhere to spend precious moments," Stapleton-Greenhill said. "She has cancer, but we have a God who can do more and we're praying for a miracle."

Jill's initial invitation went out to 900 people, but at last check, more than 12,000 folks had been invited through others -- with many promising to participate.

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