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Two milestones in one day

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published May 22, 2005


NEW PORT RICHEY - Selma Maran can make it through just about anything.

She survived war. She survived cancer. But saying goodbye to Gulf High School and the friends who saw her through the darkest period of her life - well, she didn't know if she had it in her.

After zipping her gown and hugging her friends, it was all she could do to keep her deep brown eyes from welling up.

"Don't cry," 18-year-old Kori Roberts said before pulling Selma into an embrace. And that was before the ceremony even started.

The 18-year-old Bosnian-born Selma was one of 223 Gulf seniors who walked through green and white balloon arches to receive their diplomas Friday.

But Selma's journey to that stage hit a frightening roadblock in February 2004 when a lump in her throat grew from the size of a quarter to that of a baseball almost overnight. Doctors diagnosed Selma with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a life-threatening cancer. She spent five months in chemotherapy and five months in radiation. She missed almost half of her junior year.

But Gulf's community rallied around her. German teacher Krista Bittenbender brought school to Selma's bedside through homebound instruction. And Selma's friends brought her gossip, laughter and encouragement.

"She never complained," classmate Paris Parr said. "Ever."

Selma did more than make it. In August, with three more months of radiation left, she returned to school. On Friday she graduated cum laude.

"Selma, your courage inspired us and continues to inspire us to be strong," valedictorian Julie Anne Billedo said.

Senada and Zlatko Maran were bursting with pride. Their only daughter was alive and holding a diploma. The daughter whom they rescued from war-torn Bosnia at age 5, the one whose life they worried might be stolen from them a year earlier. .

"So, so happy," Senada said as her husband bent to photograph his daughter with her best friend, Ebony Vazquez. Selma, looking at the faces of her friends Friday, said she didn't want relationships that helped her stay alive to fade: Ebony, Paris, Lloyd, Amy, Courtney ... the names of friends who made living through cancer bearable. Despite her struggle, she said, she wouldn't change a thing.

"High school," she said, "was the best four years of my life so far."

[Last modified May 22, 2005, 01:07:21]


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