We Caught Up With Grandma YoYo on How Her Powerful Story Reached Millions of People on TikTok

Rachel E. Greenspan

Though most associate TikTok fame with kids on the internet, one of the short-form video app’s popular stars actually serves as a virtual grandma to her millions of fans.

Grandma YoYo rose to fame last year after posting a tongue-in-cheek video announcing her desire to become TikTok famous, which she followed up with dance trend and comedic videos, sometimes with her husband. Now, Linda Roper has become a source of hope for her 1.1 million followers as she lives with terminal lung cancer.

“The people are amazing,” Roper, 71, told TIME over the phone from her Belle Fourche, South Dakota, home on Thursday afternoon.

With a new GoFundMe page, Roper’s daughter, Crystal Dvorak, hopes their family will now be able to afford in-home hospice care. “Grandma YoYo’s dying wish is to be able to stay at home at this time,” Dvorak wrote on the crowdfunding site on March 1. “All proceeds will be used to help her stay as comfortable as possible and absorb costs occurred as a result of her illness.”

The page has raised more than $13,000 as of Thursday afternoon. “We’re nearly to our goal,” Dvorak, 40, tells TIME. “The messages are an amazing outpouring of love.” Many of Grandma YoYo’s followers comment with their own stories of battling cancer. One commenter on a recent video wrote that her dad has lung cancer, writing that “Linda has shown me there can be positivity in anything.” The same post’s comments also include prayers, well wishes and “I love you” messages.

Roper posted her first TikTok video on Feb. 15, 2019, after being diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2018. Dvorak says that exactly one year later, on Feb. 15, she and her brother, Steven King (whose TikTok page, @btypep, also has more than a million followers), took over posting on the account, as their mother’s health declined. Most posts still feature clips of Roper in good spirits, but Dvorak and King give updates about their mother’s health on their own sometimes, too.

In addition to donations to the GoFundMe, fans have been mailing gifts, cards and packages to a P.O. box for Roper, who says she was surprised to find such a devoted audience on TikTok. “It was like, ‘oh wow,'” to become somewhat of a social media celebrity, she says. “I’m just myself.”

'Grandma YoYo' and her daughter, Crystal Dvorak, pose for a selfie | Courtesy of Crystal Dvorak

The family says they are hoping to bring more positivity to the world, both now and in the future. Dvorak plans to start a nonprofit in her mom’s name one day, hoping to offer a “space for patients who get new diagnoses also to learn about my mom, so she can keep giving.”

“I think even after she’s gone, there are lessons that people can take away from her journey,” Dvorak says, through tears, of her mother. “I’m excited.”

Roper’s request is that the nonprofit has an avenue to help animals in some capacity. The lifelong animal lover grew up with monkeys as pets in California, and now loves her pet cat, Sadie, who has been a guest star on Grandma YoYo’s TikToks.

Roper says she’s lived her whole life by one motto: “The only things that count in life are the imprints of love which we leave behind once we are gone.”

Now, using her platform to share her joie de vivre as she lives with her diagnosis, Dvorak says she is proud of how her mother has upheld that statement. “I feel like she is living up to that,” she says.

When Dvorak and her brother tried to encourage their mom to stay off-camera “once things turned,” Roper’s perseverance — and dedication to her followers around the world — was clear. She insisted on being there for her viewers. “She said, ‘But I told people I’d be there until the very end,'” Dvorak says.