Teen who got graduation wish loses her battle with cancer
Published January 28, 2005
BELL - Photos on the memorial banner show the moment 17-year-old Caitlin Huggins worked so hard for: Wearing a purple gown and mortarboard cap, wide eyes and electric smile eclipsing her drawn, tired features, she holds her high school diploma.
Caitlin, determined to graduate despite a long battle against brain cancer, inspired her North Florida community and earned the praise of Gov. Jeb Bush. Her spirit was remembered Thursday, the day after she died at home.
"She had a loving heart, a quick wit and a beautiful smile," said her mother, Suzanne Crace. "She would always show kindness to everyone."
"God Bless Caitlin and Her Family," read the marquee in front of Bell High School. In September, Caitlin stood on the school's auditorium stage, shaking hands with the governor and his wife, Columba, and accepting a diploma from principal Buddy Schofield as scores of well-wishers applauded.
That night marked a triumph for Caitlin, whom cancer struck in 2001, the summer before her freshman year. Chemotherapy robbed her of her weight and hair, and her abilities slowly faded.
There were periods of remission, but three new tumors were found the day before the school year began. Her doctors could do nothing more.
Despite her ordeal, she studied for and took the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to reach her goal. Moved by her story, the Bushes came to Gilchrist County to personally offer their congratulations.
"She was just a precious girl, very courageous, very loving," Bush said Thursday. "We're going to miss her."
Crace said her daughter would be cremated with her favorite stuffed animal, a spotted cow named Mr. Moo-Moo. A memorial service is set for Feb. 5 at the school. Another will be held in Tampa, where Caitlin grew up. Details were not available.
[Last modified January 28, 2005, 00:20:16]
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