Kylee Mills wears the crown in honor of her mother Alexis who is battling cancer
The moment arrived.
Two teens remained on stage, holding hands, waiting for the announcement.
The first runner-up for the pageant would be called first.
“Wow. This is really happening,” Kylee Mills recalled as she stood on stage with her fellow contestant.
Then a name was announced.
It was not Kylee’s name.
“Surreal is the best word. You’re so shocked,” Mills said. “I just remember hearing my mom scream as loud as she could. That’s all I could hear.”
Pure joy from Kylee’s biggest fan.
“She is probably my biggest role model,” Kylee said of Alexis Mills.
Still, this was Kylee’s moment. It will be Kylee’s year to reign as Miss Teen La Center, too.
She presented herself as a champion for younger girls, as a leader, a mentor, a friend, a volunteer, and someone proud to be part of the pageant world.
“I wanted to become Miss Teen La Center to serve my community and show little girls in my community that you don’t have to be picture perfect,” Kylee said. “You can be yourself and still do great things if you work hard enough.”
So when she was crowned Miss Teen La Center, it was all for what Kylee had to offer as a representative of La Center.
The crowning achievement had another special meaning for the Mills family.
Less than a week after Kylee Mills won the pageant, Alexis Mills rang the bell at a local clinic after undergoing 24 weeks of chemotherapy treatment. Alexis has a surgery scheduled for late August as she battles an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Just by competing in the pageant, Kylee fulfilled her mother’s wish. The wish had nothing to do specifically with the pageant. But it did have everything to do with a promise that Alexis and husband Greg made to their children on Jan. 31 when they told them of the cancer. They broke the news to Kylee, 14, and Brody, now 12, plus their three adult children later that night.
“When my mom first told us, the first thing she told us: ‘We’re going to make sure it doesn’t affect you guys. You’re still going to hang out with your friends. We’re going to make it to all the games. We don’t want it to affect you guys,’” Kylee said. “That was a huge thing for me.”
Kylee Mills is an incoming freshman at La Center High School who plans to play three sports for the Wildcats. She also will be busy with Miss Teen La Center responsibilities through next summer. Brody is an athlete, too, with a ton of potential on the basketball court.
Their mom would not allow any of her children’s activities to change while she was battling cancer.
“I wanted to be able to let them know it was going to be fine,” Alexis said. “I knew I was going to be fine. Was it going to be a fun ride? Probably not. But I knew I was going to be fine. I’m not going anywhere. Can’t get rid of me that fast.”
Kylee needed to hear that.
“You’ve gotta keep that mentality,” Kylee said. “If you know you’re going to be fine, you will be.”
It was scary to hear the news. The family quickly got over the shock, and the children went about with their normal routines.
For Kylee, that meant keeping her year-round athletic schedule and, yes competing in the Miss Teen La Center pageant. She spent a year on the court after she was named first runner-up last year, her first year in the competition.
“It was a big deal for me,” Kylee said. “I’ve been in the pageant community since I was very little. I was a junior princess growing up. I’m going to go out there and do it for me.”
She loved that her mom was behind her 100 percent. Even during chemotherapy and a work schedule, Alexis always had time for Kylee and Brody.
“She’s always there for us,” Kylee said. “She’s there for everything.”
Late-night runs to get makeup? Check. Everything is in order on chaotic pageant days? Check. Doing Kylee’s hair? Check.
Kylee laughs as she acknowledges that at the age of 14, she still does not know how to use a curling iron. No worries. Mom’s got this, even if Mom does not have any hair of her own.
Long before the week of the pageant in mid July, Kylee maintained her busy schedule, per mom’s orders.
“Playing volleyball and other sports helped me,” Kylee said. “‘OK, I can focus on this for the next two-and-a-half hours.’ It was nice to have an escape.”
Her teammates were some of the first she confided in about the family’s news.
In March, just a little more than a month from hearing the news, Kylee got the dress she would wear in the pageant in July.
“I love that dress,” she said, noting that it was so much more than fabric and style.
It was a daily reminder of what the future held, something to look forward to during this challenging time for the family.
“My mom always says (cancer) taught her to live life in the moment, to be happy where you are,” Kylee said. “That’s a big thing I learned from her during this. You’ve just got to leave everything out on the table. Be yourself no matter what, and do what makes you happy.”
Interestingly enough, there was a brief time when Kylee was not sure about competing for Miss Teen La Center. It had nothing to do with her mom’s condition. There were murmurs from some classmates, those who do not understand pageants. The negative comments got to Kylee a little bit before she bounced back with a revelation.
“I’ve got people behind me, cheering for me,” she said. “I’ve just got to be myself and keep doing what I do. That’s what’s going to get me through life.”
In preparation for the pageant, mom, daughter, and mentors agreed that this should be about Kylee’s aspirations, not Alexis’ cancer.
“We tried really hard to stay away from the topic of me,” Alexis said. “I wanted to make sure that wasn’t part of Kylee’s soapbox, her message. Loving me and being inspired by me is one thing, but she had her own voice and her own things she wanted to speak on. Being authentic is very important to Kylee.”
Part of the competition includes a private interview with the judges. On stage, in public, there is another question, with no time to prep. Kylee said she never brought up her mom.
In fact, her public question was something to the effect of: Why do you think girls in today’s world don’t sign up for pageants as much?
Kylee noted that most media programs do pageants such a disservice. She described reality TV programs about pageants as “false reality.” It is not about skin beauty, arguments, fierce rivalries, and parents at each other’s throats.
“I do pageants for the leadership skills and the friendships,” Kylee said.
Her answers, her talent, her grace, all led to the judges selecting Kylee Mills at Miss Teen La Center.
“I told her, ‘If you win, I’m going to cry,’” Alexis said. “And I did. I was also screaming my head off. She had come full circle. She was 13 last year and lost to someone who was in her first year of college. She had done so amazing that first time.”
Now, a year later, Kylee reigns.
“She can hold a conversation with an adult. She’s very articulate, super mature,” Alexis said. “I just had such a strong feeling because her confidence level had evolved. She was able to take everything that’s been going on the last six months, realign her priorities and her values around what’s important to her, and really drive her to really want it and go after it.”
This competition changed Kylee in so many positive ways. And now she will have an opportunity to shape the next generation, too. A year ago on the court, Kylee was approached by younger girls at La Center’s Our Days celebration.
“They say, ‘Oh, I want to be a princess.’ We say, ‘You can,’” Kylee said.
This year, Kylee is Miss Teen La Center for Our Days, which starts Friday with a parade and continues Saturday with a festival.
The Mills family will be there.
In celebration of Kylee.
In celebration of Alexis.
In celebration of life.
- Opinion: Seven years of blessingsEditor Ken Vance reflects on the seven years since Clark County Today was launched as a community news website.
- Vancouver is expanding its ‘Safe Stay’ homeless housing programThe city of Vancouver is planning to open five “Safe Stay” shelters for homeless people, with each site providing up to 40 homeless people with their own private units.
- Opinion: Washington State Supreme Court narrowly upholds Inslee’s eviction moratoriumIn a 5-4 decision, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld Governor Inslee’s eviction moratorium during the pandemic.
- Legal expert tells Biden impeachment hearing: President ‘has lied’In his presentation, Jonathan Turley went into detail about the history of impeachment, what has been used as a standard in the past, and pointed out that investigations by Congress have proven the need for such hearings.
- Washington Gov. Jay Inslee tests positive for COVID-19 for the third timeWashington Governor Jay Inslee tests positive for COVID-19 for the third time, the first in May 2022 and again this February.
- Ridgefield Police Department recognizes Breast Cancer Awareness Month with vibrant pink patchesRidgefield is joining public safety agencies in Clark County and across the nation by participating in the “Pink Patch Project” for the sixth consecutive year this October.
- Public Health encourages residents to dispose of fallen leaves properlyAs colorful leaves begin to fall from trees, Clark County Public Health is encouraging residents to properly dispose of leaves to keep them out of streets and the landfill.