Triumph and sadness: Teen finally gets diploma, cancer comes back

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by Stephanie Zepelin and KTVB.COM

KTVB

Posted on June 11, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 11 at 8:00 PM

BOISE -- A Boise teen who fought inoperable brain cancer and graduated from high school is facing devastating news -- the cancer is back.

Last year, we brought you the incredible story of 19-year-old Haylee Winters. Haylee had been battling brain cancer, and was just a few credits shy of graduating from Timberline High.

The reason: Haylee's fight against cancer had caused her to fall behind in class.

The controversy had centered on whether Haylee would be allowed to 'walk' with her graduating class during the big ceremony. Haylee and her mom pleaded with district officials who wouldn't allow it.

However, after a huge outcry from the community, the district reversed its decision.

Haylee had won her fight against cancer along with the fight to walk at graduation, but she still wasn't done. Haylee had to complete her credits, and earn her high school diploma.

"I got the call on December 19th, which was her 19th birthday," said Haylee's mother, Jackee Winters.

"It took a little longer than I was hoping, but I did eventually finish school and I did get my diploma from Timberline High," said Haylee.

DIAGNOSED WITH BRAIN CANCER AT 14

When Haylee was 14, doctors discovered an inoperable, cancerous brain tumor called an optic glioma. The tumor eventually grew to about the size of a plum and caused her to lose some vision in one eye. The cancer went into remission for awhile, but she still struggled with its effects.

"Physically, I really didn't feel any different than when I was going through treatment," Haylee said. "I still felt very fatigued all the time." I have headaches every day. They never go away."

Haylee fought through the lingering side effects of her tumor and continued her schooling. She finished up and got her diploma, hoping to attend college and study to be a nurse.

"Just being in the hospital all the time and seeing all the children going through what I was going through," she said. "And even before that just working with people. I've always enjoyed helping people and making people feel better any way that I can."

DEVASTATING NEWS

But while Haylee planned for her future, her tumor continued to grow and the cancer came back.

"When I found out it came back, it was really devastating," said Haylee. "I didn't really cry when I found out, just because I was so in shock."

Fast forward six months and Haylee is now almost finished with another round of daily radiation therapy. Doctors hope the treatment will prevent her tumor from growing.

"We're not really sure what the tumor's going to do," said Jackee Winter. "It's really uncertain to what's going to happen."

THE FIGHT CONTINUES

However, that uncertainty doesn't stop the family from battling Haylee's illness together.

"I just have to keep fighting and going," said her mom Jackee, who says her daughter's fight against cancer has motivated her to bring awareness to the disease. "This will be a life-long illness for Haylee," Winters told KTVB.

Sunday, the family held a yard sale to help pay for Haylee's mounting medical bills. Many of the items for sale were donated by friends and family.

"It make me feel really blessed to have people that are caring and compassionate," Jackee said.

In the meantime, Haylee is continuing to try to lead a normal life. The folks at the Shak Hawaiian Cafe are throwing Haylee the graduation party she never had.

"I'm not going to give up," Haylee said. "I don't want anyone to think that I'm going to give up. I'm going to kick cancer's butt, and I'm going to have a long life."

According to the National Cancer Institute, there were more than 23,000 new cases of brain and nervous system cancer this year in the US.

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