LIVERMORE -- A memorial is planned for Tuesday to honor Livermore teen Deven Leonis, who died March 22 after a courageous battle with cancer.
Deven, 15, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma on Dec. 9, 2011 -- his 14th birthday -- following a tonsillectomy in which doctors removed a lump from the back of his throat that proved cancerous.
Dubbed "The Warrior," Deven last attended Junction Avenue K-8 School, where he inspired fellow students and teachers to shave their heads in solidarity. The school held blood drives and "beanie days," where students wore beanies and hats to class -- as Deven often did -- in his honor.
Teresa McGowan, Deven's sixth and seventh grade resource teacher, and home teacher since eighth grade, remembered him as a determined student with a love of cooking and an enthusiasm for school.
"He always had a smile on his face, and that smile was so contagious," McGowan said. "He gave it his all when he was there."
This school year, Deven had enrolled as an independent study student at Granada High School, doing schoolwork at home. In the winter, he decided to focus on his health and underwent cancer treatment requiring regular hospitalization. Deven, who had also struggled with a heart ailment that required six open-heart surgeries, had ambitions of someday becoming a doctor, McGowan said.
"He was a huge inspiration," she said. "He was always concerned about his grades, whether he felt good or not. He had so many dreams he wanted to achieve."
Shortly after her son's diagnosis, Deven's mother, Angie Denton-Silva, started Team Deven, a fundraising group that has raised thousands of dollars for cancer research. Countless well-wishers followed Deven's story on the group's popular Facebook page, and friends stayed in touch through the site and with home visits.
"The Warrior" even inspired those he'd never met. In February, an 8-year-old girl in Milpitas, Lillie Czarnota, heard his story and was inspired to create and sell necklaces, bracelets and drawings of Star Wars characters to raise money for the cause. Her effort led to a massive donation drive and Star Wars-themed yard sale that raised $4,000.
Rallying behind Deven, students in the Junction Avenue leadership class taught by Jan Bennett donated spare change to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The school generated thousands of dollars for the organization.
Bennett, who had Deven in her class as a seventh-grader, recalled him as a gregarious, energetic youth with many friends and a thirst for knowledge.
"He really wanted to succeed," she said. "He wanted everything, and he wanted it now."
Students in Bennett's class wore beanies Monday and posted photos on Instagram and Facebook of themselves wearing bracelets and writing "Team Deven" on their wrists.
The class is creating a plaque and signing a photo in his memory.
"He was open about his illness," Bennett said. "He wore his heart of his sleeve, and the kids loved it."