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Epilogue | Erin Howarth

'Cancer warrior' Erin Howarth loses a bravely fought battle

Erin Howarth lived thinking she would beat cancer. “Never in a million years did we believe this would get on top of us,” said her husband, Adam. “We believed we did too much research, too much work. We worked too hard.”

Erin Howarth (2010)

Erin Howarth lived thinking she would beat cancer. “Never in a million years did we believe this would get on top of us,” said her husband, Adam. “We believed we did too much research, too much work. We worked too hard.”

TAMPA — Carli Segelson knew her friend's radiant smile well.

But that day it was different.

Erin Howarth, a college student in Pennsylvania, had scheduled a trip to the dentist. When she came back, she flashed her roommate the smile. On one of her upper front teeth, a clear gemstone glistened back at her.

Segelson laughed.

"That was just her," she said. "She could pull off anything. She could put on a burlap sack and make it look good."

Or a sparkly tooth gem.

She had eclectic taste. She loved to travel, was infamously kind, notoriously messy. A worshiper of Lady Gaga. She drove a yellow-and-black Mini Cooper with a "bumblebee" vanity plate on the front.

She was also a "cancer warrior," in her words.

After she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in November 2008 at age 31, Mrs. Howarth, of Orlando, fought back. She underwent more than 100 chemotherapy sessions, going into remission twice. The cancer kept returning.

On Oct. 17, she lost her battle. She was 34.

The grave diagnosis never kept her from living. It fueled her.

"Cancer only got one day a week from us," said husband Adam, 35, who would drive her to H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa for treatment. "The other six days were for us."

They did a lot in those years.

They went to England and Spain to visit his family. Trekked to Las Vegas and Napa Valley, Los Angles and New York. Took road trips and went on cruises. She swam with Winter the dolphin at the Clearwater Aquarium.

Their biggest adventure came in May 2010. With the cancer in remission, the pair sojourned with family members and a host of close friends to Spain for their wedding. They exchanged vows in a 14th century palace.

"It was a fairy tale wedding," said Segelson, 34. "That's how she lived her life."

She was determined to do it right. That meant getting the right dress.

She applied for a chance to go on the TLC show Say Yes to the Dress. A broadcast communications major, she was a natural in front of the camera.

She had that smile.

The show liked her and her powerful story of survival. She appeared on an episode called "Dress Mates" in June 2010. She got her dream dress.

The Howarths lived thinking they'd beat cancer.

"Never in a million years did we believe this would get on top of us," Adam Howarth said. "We believed we did too much research, too much work. We worked too hard."

Both credited the widely debated drug Avastin for the extra years they got, he said.

In August 2010, the St. Petersburg Times profiled Mrs. Howarth and her use of the drug, which targets cancerous cells, starving them of the blood they need to grow. The Food and Drug Administration is poised to rescind approval of the drug for treating breast cancer.

Adam Howarth called the decision "a travesty."

"What about the women it does work for?" he asked.

She never hid from the disease, her husband said. She never let it stop her from experiencing the world.

"She wanted to live so much," Adam Howarth said.

Erin Howarth

Born: April 13, 1977

Died: Oct. 17, 2011

Survivors: husband, Adam; father and mother, Bob and Nora Painter; brother Daniel Painter.

'Cancer warrior' Erin Howarth loses a bravely fought battle 10/26/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 27, 2011 7:54am]
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