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Despite illness, Roseberry never quit

October 28, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Sarah Yvonne Roseberry, who died Oct. 13 at the age of 23. Her obituary was published in the Oct. 16 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Ten years ago, Sarah Yvonne Roseberry, then just 13, entered the world of pediatric oncology. Now that she shared a world populated by children with cancer, the other world faded away for her.

Through surgery, pain, chemotherapy, radiation, disappointment and more pain, Sarah managed to live a life, love her friends and family, and encourage others beset by the same demons she was facing.

That life might have ended, but its impact will long be felt.

Struggling with the loss of her youngest and only surviving child, aged 23, on Oct. 13, Teresa Obitts said she considers it a privilege to have watched Sarah fight for every minute of life, not only for herself, but for others during the past decade.

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"Every time she relapsed, she asked what we would try next," Teresa said. "Sarah made a lot of strides for other children with experimental drugs."

With Sarah willing to try new drugs, doctors at Johns Hopkins University Hospital were able to adjust dosages based on Sarah's reactions, Teresa said, which sometimes involved her becoming quite sick.

Sarah originally was diagnosed in the fall of 1997 with a malignant brain tumor that was surgically removed at Hopkins. She underwent 36 radiation treatments, but the cancer returned in 2002.

Still, Sarah accomplished many things in her life, including graduation from Williamsport High School with her class in 2002. Refusing home schooling, Sarah had continued to attend classes there when she wasn't hospitalized.

"Sometimes she came home crying ... kids can be cruel, you know," Teresa said.

In a published report in 2002, Sarah said it was hard, but she wanted to experience school just like everyone else.

"It seemed like everybody was staring at me," she said in that interview.

Sarah always bristled at any limitations on her, such as having to use the elevator at school. She wasn't supposed to wear a backpack either, but she did it anyway, her mother said.

Shortly after her graduation, she went back to the hospital for a bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy and some more experimental drug treatments.

During one of her many hospital stays, Sarah got to visit a veterinarian in Baltimore and watch surgeries on pets. Sarah always had wanted to be a vet before she got sick, her mother said.

Through an organization called Believe in Tomorrow, Sarah also met Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell and comic Chris Rock, and got to spend time on the set of the movie "Ladder 49" with actors John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix.

"John Travolta kissed her on the cheek, and Sarah said she would never wash that cheek again," Teresa said.

Teresa said her brother, Craig Hood and his wife, Mary, have given strong support during Sarah's illness as well as the sudden death of Teresa's older daughter, Jeanette Roseberry, killed in 2004 when the ambulance she was driving crashed in Howard County.

"Jeanette and Sarah were like sisters to Craig rather than nieces," Teresa said. The three of them attended each other's sporting events over the years.

In 2002, Craig and his wife took Sarah to her prom. The family arranged for a limousine, and Craig danced with Sarah, who wore a long red strapless gown and long white gloves.

Now 32, Craig said even at her sickest, Sarah always called him on his birthday.

"She pinned my last promotion on me," Craig said.

Currently in the U.S. Army, Craig was in Iraq a year ago when he got word that Sarah was believed to have just 48 hours to live.

The doctors at Hopkins managed to pull her through that crisis, and Sarah later said that it all happened because she didn't want her Uncle Craig over there.

"She told us she'd stop at nothing to get him back," Teresa said, managing a faint smile.

It was that determination that served Sarah well during the 10-year journey through her illness.

"Dr. Kenneth Cohen is in charge of pediatric brain tumors at Hopkins and treated Sarah for 10 years," Teresa said. Cohen came to see the family in Hagerstown after Sarah died.

Teresa said Dr. Albert Strauss Jr., a Hagerstown pediatrician, also visited Sarah in the hospital over the years.

And Sarah's pastor, Joy Zepp of Manor Church of the Brethren, also was a regular visitor at Sarah's hospital bed.

"It was Joy who put Sarah at peace when her sister died," Teresa said.

Teresa and Craig said no matter how bad things were for Sarah in the past 10 years, she always was thinking of others - whether family, friends or strangers.

"Jeanette was supposed to be a bridesmaid at my wedding, and Sarah jumped in after Jeanette died," Craig said.

In her willingness to be a guinea pig for drug testing, Sarah never hesitated.

"She was always feeling for the younger ones," Teresa said.

At the end, there was a lot of pain, but Sarah still didn't quit ... that never crossed her mind, Teresa said.

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