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Rosalynn Rose Rivas | 1986-2008

Tumor couldn't change Tampa woman's approach to life

CULBREATH BAYOU — Looking back, Sarah Rivas said, maybe someone should have known something was horribly wrong.

There was that time years ago when her daughter, Rosa­lynn Rose Rivas, had to leave her own birthday party because of a severe headache. More recently, Miss Rivas was having trouble concentrating in her classes at the University of Florida. She was losing weight and feeling anxious. Friends said she sometimes made clicking noises with her mouth.

But there always seemed to be explanations. After all, she wasn't the first kid to get a headache after eating ice cream, nor the first college student to daydream in class, nor the first young woman to lose weight or feel panicky. Doctors at UF recommended counseling.

Until a year and a half ago, no one imagined that the bright and energetic Miss Rivas had a malignant brain tumor.

They discovered the tumor in 2006 after Miss Rivas had a car accident in Gainesville. She veered across six lanes of traffic, hit a tree and flipped her car.

She apparently had a seizure while driving. Those clicking sounds she made were also symptomatic of small seizures. She may have been having seizures in class and blacking out without realizing it, her mother theorized, and that's why she thought she was having trouble concentrating.

At first, doctors thought they could remove the tumor.

"In the middle of the operation, the doctor came out and told me it wasn't what they thought it was," Sarah Rivas said. "He told me she had only so many years to live. To tell you the truth, at that point I didn't even hear what he was saying."

After the operation, it looked as though chemotherapy had shrunk the tumor successfully. It was just earlier this year that doctors told the Rivas family that the tumor had returned.

Miss Rivas passed away Aug. 5. She was 22 years old.

Sarah Rivas never told her daughter what the doctors had said about her limited life expectancy. She later found out that Miss Rivas had researched the condition and found out on her own.

"But it was something we never talked about," her mother said. "She never mentioned it to me and I never mentioned it to her. But we both knew."

Miss Rivas, who had always been an active young woman with lots of friends, was determined to live her life fully, even as the tumor grew inside her brain. She returned to UF, remained active in her sorority, went out with friends. This past May, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in advertising.

"A lot of her friends in Gainesville didn't know anything was wrong," her mother said. "She just didn't talk about it."

Until she went away to college, Miss Rivas had lived her entire life in Tampa. Her great-grandfather had founded Valencia Gardens Restaurant, and her mother still works there.

Miss Rivas graduated with honors from Plant High School in 2004. She loved to dance, and had studied at local dance studios since she was a small child. At Plant she had been a member of the Dancero Dance Team.

She had lived a busy life, but it was her quieter moments that her mother will remember.

"Of my three children, she was the only one that would always hug and kiss me," Sarah Rivas said. "Every night before she went to bed, even if I was already in bed, she'd come in and give me a hug and a kiss. That's what I'm going to miss."

Besides her mother, Miss Rivas is survived by her father, Rene, sisters Renee and Reghan, and grandparents Sam and Josephine Agliano and Nellie Silva.

Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at

Tumor couldn't change Tampa woman's approach to life 08/14/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2008 4:30am]
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