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Megan Suzanne Carpenter | 1989-2006 // Girl found time to live amid illness

Megan Carpenter didn't get far in school. She was enrolled at Plant City High School, but spent more time in the hospital than in class.

She died Nov. 15, 2006, just two months after spending her 17th birthday in the hospital. Though she died young, she taught everyone around her how to live.

"She was an inspiration," said her father, Chip Carpenter.

"She never really complained, never felt like a victim. She was determined not to let it get her down. She just went ahead and lived her life. She was always the one who would point out a rainbow or a beautiful sunset or say, 'Look at that pretty butterfly.' "

Ms. Carpenter was only 11 when she was diagnosed with adrenocortical carcinoma, an extremely rare cancer that attacks the adrenal glands in the upper abdomen.

"It's most prevalent in menopausal women, and even then it's rare," her father said. "They don't even have statistics for pediatrics."

Over the last 51/2 years of her life, she spent about 51 weeks in the hospital, in stays of a few days to several weeks. She endured nine surgeries.

When she wasn't in the hospital, though, she tried to live the life of a typical small-town girl.

She participated in the Florida Strawberry Festival's Junior Royalty Pageant and for several years was a cheerleader for the Plant City Dolphins youth football team.

"She loved cheerleading," her father said. "Sometimes she'd be out there cheerleading with her cap on when she had lost all her hair because of the chemotherapy."

But as hard as she tried, the cancer limited her.

She never got to drive a car, never had her first date. She tried out for her high school cheerleading squad, but because she missed so many school days, she wasn't allowed to cheer.

"I think that was the thing that bothered her the most, that she couldn't be a cheerleader," her father said.

She went to school when she was able. But because many of the other students didn't know her, they'd often make fun of her baldness or tease her for wearing a cap in the lunchroom.

Megan always enjoyed her family, her two dogs and her lifelong best friends, Alex Moore and Lauren Bradshaw.

"She really felt that God was going to take care of her," said her mother, Dana Carpenter. "I used to wonder why God would do this to her, and then I got it. God chose her to represent to people how he wanted them to live."

Chip Carpenter said he wasn't sure where his daughter got the strength to enjoy life while dealing with a debilitating and fatal disease. Partly, he said, her strength came from her faith.

Not long before Megan died, he said, someone asked her if she ever got mad at God for giving her such a bad break.

"She just said, 'Jesus didn't get mad when they were nailing him to the cross, so how can I be mad about this?' "

Besides her father and mother, Ms. Carpenter is survived by her brother Chad and her grandparents.