There is a place Kayla Yenna returns to in her mind, a place of safety and love she can conjure when the worries weigh her down, when the fear of a death sentence hangs over her head.
That safe place was where she spent summers in her childhood.
Born and raised in the North Port-Englewood area, Yenna and her little brother got to head north for Michigan each year when school let out.
That’s where her father’s parents lived on a farm. Yenna remembers running through the pastoral beauty there – marveling at how people ate what they grew from the land. What captivated her most of all was the tranquility – an escape from the trauma of her father’s temper.
“It was a whole other world,” she recalls of those childhood summers.
Shaping that world was her doting grandmother – she and Yenna’s grandfather lovebirds since they were teens.
Yenna aspired to be like her grandmother, who was a nurse, always seeming to be taking care of everyone, at work and inside the family.
But after high school and giving birth to daughter Ashlyn in 2010 at age 20, Yenna gravitated to the service industry to pay the bills. The birth of her second daughter, Charlotte, followed five years later.
As a single mother through her twenties, Yenna worked her way up to managerial jobs – at service stations and Subway sandwich shops.
It was another way of taking care of people, and where she learned the power behind words.
“It can make a world of difference in just being positive,” Yenna said. She loved the impact she could make on customers, how a kind word or gesture could elicit a smile or change their demeanor. “What you say matters – ‘You look beautiful today,’ or ‘How was your day?’ You connect with people.”
For about six months she had a job more in line with her grandmother’s profession, in home health care, helping to manage the office and take care of patients.
Through the years at her various jobs, the hours were long and pay not always great, but she never asked for help from anyone other than her mother, who was also her closest friend.
Then in 2019, Yenna began to feel a strange pain in her hands and feet. At first, she thought it might be signs of diabetes. Given life’s hectic pace, for years she had been eating fast food and quick meals. She had little time to exercise, no longer running with abandon like the young girl she was on her grandparents’ farm.
But when the pain persisted, she went to see doctors for tests. The results sent her reeling.