Teen with terminal cancer gets early graduation ceremony


Words: Kerry Justich

A teenager from Texas, USA, received her secondary school diploma during an early graduation ceremony, after she found out that her cancer had spread and decided to not follow through with more treatment.

Crystal “Iris” Marquez was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma (a type of cancer that forms in or around bones) in her shoulder back in April 2015. She went through a year of chemotherapy and was told that she was cancer-free. But just six months after completing treatment, a doctor informed the 17-year-old that the cancer had spread.

“Recently, I was diagnosed with a tumour on my lung,” Marquez told KPRC. “When I went back for a checkup, they saw on my rib cage I also had a tumour.”

Despite the troubling prognosis, Marquez wasn’t ready to give up on her dreams, and told her family that she wouldn’t be missing school, nor would she be going through with treatment. Instead, she expressed a final wish to graduate high school. Luckily, the district was behind her in making that happen.

READ MORE: What you should never say to cancer sufferers

“We knew we had to make the year special for her as we didn’t know what time she would have left,” Taylor High School Principal Mary Williams tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We started planning for a graduation for her to be held on Senior Awards night (23 April 2019) and that we would also make sure she had a great prom with her class on 4 May 2019.”

But following an update on how aggressive Marquez’s cancer had become, Williams says that they moved the graduation to March 8. On that Friday, Alief Independent School District brought administrators, classmates and Marquez’s family and friends together to fill the auditorium’s 900 seats and honour Marquez in an early ceremony.

“This school is a wonderful community! The staff members all became vested in making this a wonderful experience,” Williams explains. “A make-up artist came and did her make-up for graduation day. A staff member donated a new wig for her.”

Feeling confident, Marquez stood at the podium and gave a speech in front of administrators, friends and family, addressing her hardships and her drive to overcome them.

“I am a Disney girl. I have battled pirates, dragons and evil queens. I have dreamed impossible dreams,” Marquez said in her speech. “Seniors, there will be times when there are things that are out of your control. Don’t let it harden your heart. Don’t let it define who you are.”

According to Williams, Marquez certainly hasn’t let her illness define her.

READ MORE: Woman ‘mortified’ after told to cover up on flight

“Iris, even in pain attended school most days. She is a very bright child. She loves school and she loves learning,” Williams says. “All she wanted was to achieve these two milestones and to enjoy her senior year. It didn’t seem like a lot to ask. We could make that happen for her.”

Marquez didn’t immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. However, she explained to KPRC just how much the support of her classmates means to her.

“It makes me feel like I matter and it motivates me to keep pushing on,” she said.

And in her speech, she made just one request of those supporting her.

“There is one thing that I can ask for you,” she shared, “and that is to reach for the sky, to infinite and beyond.”

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