All her life, Keren Clay has been determined.
When she began playing soccer at 4 years old, Keren was dedicated to being the best on the field every season.
When her older brother and younger sister would argue, Keren was resolute on keeping the peace.
And even after the cancer she was fighting took her foot, Keren was unwavering in her determination to keep going — at 11 years old.
“She just doesn’t give up,” her mother, Kelly Clay, told InsideEdition.com.
In February, Keren was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The diagnosis came after several months of playing soccer through the pain in her foot, as the consummate athlete refused to give up.
"She was in a lot of pain, but she just wouldn’t quit,” Clay said.
Then came the devastating news that Keren’s tumor was inoperable, and that amputation of her foot was her best choice for a full and active life.
“It was really bad when we had to tell her she had cancer, but it was worse when we had to tell her about her foot,” Clay said. “She was always really athletic and active. We made the decision to have the amputation because it gave her the best chance of being active again. That’s hard for a child to understand that."
But after her surgery on July 31, Keren took the initiative to lead her family to move forward.
"She did spring back, that day, she was already talking about it like she was processing it and accepting it,” Clay said. “It made it so much easier for us, where we could start processing it."
It was the latest act of a child wise beyond her years, who had become the best advocate for both herself and others.
"She’s always been very quietly determined, but she’s become a lot more outwardly determined," Clay said. "Especially at the hospital. She’s impressed me with how she came out of her shell. She smiles for everybody, and made so many friends at the hospital, mostly with the nurses."
So it came as no surprise to Clay to learn those who knew her daughter best wanted to make her Aug. 3 homecoming one to remember.
Video captured the moment Keren was greeted by her schoolmates and teachers waiting outside their school, and by friends and neighbors cheering her on as she arrived home.
"She said, 'What did you do?'" Clay said with a laugh. "I said, ‘I didn’t do anything; I was at the hospital with you!' She was really moved, she was so surprised."
Once at home, Keren made sure to let everyone know how appreciative she was of their kind gesture.
“My friends were talking to me [before]; they said, ‘You guys can just go inside, we don’t want this to be overwhelming for her. We just want her to know we love her,’” Clay said. “She has so much courage. She got on her crutches and went to the bottom of the driveway.”
Keren has finished her fifth week of radiation and will continue chemotherapy through March. Though it would be understandable for her to focus on her health and well-being, Keren hasn’t slowed down. She is preparing for her prosthetic and plans to get back out on the field and in the water again.
“She’s so determined and so active," Clay said. "She wants to play soccer again, she wants to swim again."
And in partnership with Team IMPACT, the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team held a signing day celebration for Keren, making her an official member of the squad.
“I won’t be surprised if she learns to play basketball,” Clay said.
Keren also made her mark on New York Fashion Week, where she participated in Runway of Dreams, and most importantly, remains focused on helping others who are battling cancer. She has raised more than $20,000 for the Rally Foundation, which plans to name a fund dedicated to researching rhabdomyosarcoma after Keren.
“She’s still seeking adventure and wanting more,” Clay said. “She’s not letting this get in her way.”