Back in the 1980s, I didn't know Soraya Lamilla very well.
She was a 1987 graduate of Point Pleasant Borough High School who went on to become a celebrated singer and performer. What I remember about her, however, is that she was very smart, very athletic, and had a beautifully warm smile.
She was also very quiet, but had the kind of personality that one does not forget. She was just so kind.
What I was so surprised to hear was that Soraya ultimately succumbed to breast cancer. And now, five years after the disease cut her beautiful life way too short, I think of her as a shining star in the sky.
Soraya was born in New Jersey, though her parents were Colombian immigrants. I remember her excelling in pretty much everything she did.
She was recognized as a top field hockey goalie in all of Ocean County. She was a violinist in the Boro High School band.
To top all of that off, she was the valedictorian of her Class of '87. Even then, she was really like a shining star, albeit a quiet one.
Rutgers was where Soraya went to college and overcame the fear of performing she once had. She performed in coffeehouses near the school where she developed a strength for preforming live.
After graduating with degrees in English Literature and French Philosophy, she moved to Miami. There, she worked part-time as a flight attendant, but played at small clubs and bars as she sought attention from the music industry.
After lots of hard work, Soraya received a record deal with PolyGram Latino/Island in 1996.
But as her career really began to take off in 2000, Soraya received the devastating news. It was during her tough, struggling years before signing that she lost her mother, aunt and grandmother to the horrific disease. And now Soraya had the same illness.
She was diagnosed immediately in Stage III, which was grim. She underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. For four years, she fought heroically with strict regiments of radiation and chemotherapy. In 2003, her cancer was in remission.
But even then, she was a shining star. Our amazing Soraya became a spokesperson for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. She also was awarded a Spirits in Hope Award from Billboard Magazine for all her help and efforts in raising awareness about the disease.
In January 2006, Soraya found her cancer had relapsed, and it took her life on May 10, just under five months.
I'm hoping that writing about her will help refresh our memories on truly what a shining star Soraya was way back then, and how that star still remains bright long after she followed her dream.
Soraya's website is at http://www.soraya.com/.