Inspirational Oakland teen who battled to get his H.S. degree loses life to cancer

- Hero, brother, fighter, a true warrior-- those are some of the words of tribute pouring out from those who are mourning the death of 18-year-old Darryl Aikens, who ended his fight with leukemia on Sunday.

A recent graduate of McClymonds High School in Oakland, his story of courage and determination inspired his family and friends and as well as many who never even met him.

Aikens was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago.

Because of his illness, he was forced to miss stretches of school and wasn't able to graduate with his class last year, his mother Tierra Barker told KTVU.

But he was not going to give up on making it as a high school graduate, according to Barker who said of her son, "Whatever it is, he puts his mind to it. He shoots for that goal."

That drive helped him continue to play football as long as he could, even while he was sick, and it pushed him to graduate last month with honors.

He got up from his wheelchair to a roar of cheers and walked across the stage to accept his diploma.

"I cried like a baby," Barker said. "It was amazing. He had been waiting for that moment. It's all he wanted to do," the proud mother added.

Aikens was a huge Warriors fan. Last month, his mother described what a treat and a gift it was for her son to see his team win the championship and how he loved celebrating at the parade and rally.

Many of the photos posted by family on Facebook shows Aikens last December during his dream-come-true visit with the Warriors.

He's seen posing with some of his heroes, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant.

Former football coach, Todd Walker said he helped set up that meeting because he knew how much this team meant to Aikens.

Walker recalled how incredible that moment was for the teen, who that day had just been released from the hospital. "He just loved it so much. It put so much life into him," the coach said.

Walker said he met Aikens as a 9-year-old football player, and it didn't take long for him and the child to became like family.

"Everybody that met him, loved Darryl," Walker said.

"He had that big old watermelon smile. When he smiled, it was really something. He was something," the coach said.

Walker also noted that Darryl worked hard to rise above his circumstances.

"He came from one of the hardest neighborhoods in Oakland. He did not want to be a statistic. He wanted to be a role model citizen and that's how he left-- a role model citizen," said Walker.

A few weeks ago, Aikens' mom described her pride and her love for her son and his sister in a Facebook post. 

"Being a mother is one of my gifts that God has giving to me... I wouldn't have wanted nothing differently... Each day when I get up I have to make a memory out of that day I tell them how much I love them I want the world to know that these TWO ARE MY KID AND THEY ARE MY WORLD."

A GoFundMe page that was set up to help pay for medical expenses is now a fundraising effort to cover costs for Darryl Aikens' funeral.  

On it, his mother writes, "It would mean the world to me and his entire family if we could give my son the services and farewell to this life in the fashion he truly deserves. Thank you so much and God Bless #TEAMDARRYL."

For those who would like to donate, click here.

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