Local teen gets Sweet 16 party

Cancer victim's wish grandted

Cancer victim's wish grandted

February 26, 2006|By BONNIE H. BRECHBILL



Most of the girls at the Sweet 16 party at the Chambersburg Country Club Saturday night wore high heels. As the evening progressed, some of them went barefoot.

The guests of honor, twins Samantha and Arianna George, celebrated their 16th birthday wearing dresses that would make a princess proud. Arianna's full-length strapless white gown was decorated with sparkles; Samantha's had a long train, red trim and beads. Her red-tipped fingernails matched the trim on her dress.

Under the flowing gown, she wore white sneakers.

Tasha Schooley, her friend since third grade, wore pink sneakers under her pink gown.

"This party is perfect," Samantha said, sitting down to rest a moment in the lobby.

She then hiked up her gown to show a visitor her new, computerized prosthetic leg.

"There's a computer under here," she said, patting the realistic-looking knee. "It helps me walk. This is the longest I've been on my feet without crutches in a year and a half. I had a temporary leg before; I've had this one for two weeks."


Samantha was diagnosed with clear cell sarcoma on Sept. 30. 2004, said Kelly Szczerba, the girls' mother.

The diagnosis "took our breath away," she said.

"The whole family was involved. I would have changed places with her, rather than see her go through it. She's found a lot of strength. It was a character-defining event for her."

The rare and aggressive cancer primarily affects young adults and does not respond to chemotherapy or radiation. The only way to stop its spread is to amputate the area of the body that harbors the disease. Samantha's leg was amputated shortly after her diagnosis. The cancer had not spread.

Samantha has a chest X-ray every four months. She has a 75 percent chance of survival with the amputation, her mother said, but "if it shows up in her lungs, it is fatal."

Lighted fabric streamers draped the candlelit banquet room, and silver stars hung form the ceiling. In one corner stood an 11-foot lighted "Stairway to Heaven."

Friends arranged Samantha's train carefully for photos in front of the Stairway to Heaven.

Samantha executed some dance steps while cameras flashed.

"Oh, it's hot in this thing," she said. "Can I sit down now?"

The J. Frank Faust Junior High School ninth-graders were toasted by their stepfather, Bob Szczerba. "The 16 years were interrupted by a tragedy that has turned into a positive," he said. "Have a wonderful and glorious life."

Samantha already has plans for living that life. Her first goal: "Drive," she says firmly. "Then finish school and get a job."

"Tell her to pay attention in math class," one of the friends surrounding her said.

Nine of the friends arrived at the party together in a limousine, where Samantha's tiara got bent when the limo hit a bump.

She can go quickly from laughing with her friends to talking seriously about her illness.

"The experience was hard, really hard," she said. "I'm glad I'm over it now and I'm up and running."

While Samantha missed almost all of eighth grade because of the amputation, "I wanted to get over this and get my life back on track. I had time to heal," she said.

Her dress, from J & B Bridals, is "the most gorgeous thing I've ever seen. And I had six hours of hair and makeup."

The Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children ages 2 to 18 with life-threatening illnesses, put on the party for Samantha and Arianna.

The average cost of granting a wish is $3,400, according to Ann Waltman of the York, Pa. Make-A-Wish office.

"A lot of services were donated," she added. "We won't be over that cost."

"The volunteers here did an awesome job," she added.

Make-A-Wish volunteers Rich Bell, a cancer survivor himself, and his wife, Susan, coordinated the event.

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