Girl with terminal illness inspires others

Penny Doerge lived every day with joy, humor and bravery.

She was diagnosed at a young age with neurofibromatosis, a condition that can cause tumors, and in her case, led to terminal brain cancer. She had 15 surgeries on her brain and leg.

"She made a choice to live her life with joy and optimism," her father, Chad Doerge, said.

As someone who knew Penny, you would never know she was sick. She always chose positivity over pain and hoped to inspire others to find beauty in imperfection.

"That's sort of how Penny lived her life," her father said. "She taught us a lot. She was quietly very brave."

Penny died in November at age 16 at her home in Glen Cove, N.Y.

"As we said, it's not your lifespan, it's your wingspan," her mother, Kate Doerge, said. "Penny lived a greater life in her 16 years than most people do in 100. For that, we could not be more grateful."

Her family recently launched Penny's Flight, a foundation dedicated to inspiring others to live life as she did. After just one week, the butterfly effect took off and her friends have spread her message across the country — with the help of comedian Jimmy Fallon and former NFL quarterback Eli Manning. The mission is to make much-needed advances in medical research on neurofibromatosis and related illnesses.

"I think it goes back to that idea that there's inspiration in how she lived her life and she's a quiet teacher in everything she did," Chad Doerge said.

Kate added, "She was a gift to all of us. And we know she lived her life's purpose."

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