She was told by doctors that she'd die before she ever graduated from high school, but she didn't drop out. She didn't stop going to class when her hair fell out and the girls teased her and the boys called her names for the bruises radiation left on her body. She didn't stop doing her homework when she became too sick to leave the couch. She never stopped, no matter the pain, and in June, Lyndsey Staub graduated from Dixie Hollins High School.
On Thursday evening, Lyndsey died from Wilms' tumor, a children's kidney cancer she had been battling for 16 years. She was 19.
Lyndsey had never had an easy life. Her mother's boyfriend beat her, sometimes with a canoe paddle. Her mom was on drugs and would be in and out of jail for most of Lyndsey's life. She'd go to live with her father. He would be diagnosed with throat cancer, drive to a motel and commit suicide.
His girlfriend, Lauri Draskovich, raised Lyndsey as her own, along with daughters Jordan and Makenna. Family friend Skip Lilly also helped raised Lyndsey, acting as her grandfather.
These are the people who spent their lives protecting Lyndsey's.
Lyndsey had tumors in her back and chest that pressed against her ribs and organs, putting the girl in constant pain. But even when she was too nauseated to eat and too uncomfortable to sleep, Lyndsey thought only of others.
Amy Ballard, her second-grade teacher at Blanton Elementary, remembered wrapping up hospital visits with Lyndsey.
"I've got to go, honey," Ballard would say, and Lyndsey would reply, "Be careful driving home. There's crazy drivers on the road."
"She'd sit me down and say 'How are things with you? How are your kids? How are you doing? Things like that. I'm like, 'Wait a minute, okay? I'm here to see you,' " said her elementary school guidance counselor, Debbie Holland.
Sick from such an early age, Lyndsey was a sweetheart of educators throughout the Pinellas County Schools system. At Dixie Hollins, Lyndsey met a team of administrators and teachers who wouldn't let her drop out, even when she felt sickest and wanted to give up.
At a time when it didn't look as though Lyndsey would see June, staff members began discussing a small ceremony at the school just for Lyndsey, so she could still get the diploma she was working so hard for.
They wouldn't need it. On June 5, principal Dan Evans walked Lyndsey into the underbelly of Tropicana Field and told her to put on her brave face. She had a bag of pain pills tucked into the shirt of her gauzy white dress.
Her name was called last. A standing ovation.
"She did a lot to inspire us, through her grit and her determination and her smile," Evans said Friday. "She was a good girl."
After graduation, Lyndsey tried to live a normal life. She thought about enrolling at St. Petersburg College, and spent a month living by the beach with a friend.
But Lyndsey never moved her stuff out of the home she had grown up in, and was soon back. The tumors grew. In November, she moved into a hospice. She came home the day before Thanksgiving, but was in too much pain to stay.
They had Christmas at Lauri's sister house, in Apollo Beach. Lyndsey unwrapped a new television, a new cellphone. New clothes, because she had lost too much weight to fit into her old ones.
She contracted pneumonia, but it had seemed to turn around until Sunday, when Lyndsey's family took her to All Children's Hospital.
On Thursday, around dinner time, she took off her oxygen mask and told Lauri, "I can't do this anymore." And, "I'm sorry, Mom."
Lauri said, "This isn't my choice. This isn't for me. You don't do this for me. Do it for you."
So the girl turned around to face the nurse and told her she was done fighting. She was made comfortable. Her family was all around her. Lyndsey went in peace. For the first time, in such a long time, there was no pain.
Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected]