Tenn. Teen With Terminal Cancer Heads to Prom on Ride Through Bucket List

Katelyn Norman, 14, is dying from an aggressive bone cancer.

ByChristina Ng
March 25, 2013, 1:42 PM

March 26, 2013 — -- A last slow dance, learning to drive a car, a day with each sibling and seeing Italy are all items on 14-year-old Katelyn Norman's bucket list. She doesn't have a lifetime to accomplish the goals, however, so her family, friends and community are rallying around her to make them happen.

Katelyn is dying from osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer. After fighting the cancer for two years, she was told last week that it has spread and there's not much more doctors can do. She was sent home to spend her last days.

She hopes to check off some of the items on her bucket list at a personalized prom tonight in LaFollette, Tenn., where she will be surrounded by friends, family, classmates and her doctors.

"They said that it has spread a lot, my cancer, and that it's the beginning of the end of my days and so we started a bucket list," Katelyn told ABC News Knoxville affiliate WATE-TV. "[I'm] ecstatic. I can't wait. I just can't wait to go."

Her bucket list also includes a last kiss, a Marilyn Monroe piercing, and attending an Of Mice and Men concert and getting an autographed T-shirt.

"I just want to give her what she isn't going to see and just try to fulfill what she wants to do. It's not really much, but it's something to her," mom Erica Nelson told WATE. "We're very grateful that they're wanting to come help Katelyn. She's touched a lot of people."

The prom's theme is "Katie in the Sky with Diamonds" and about 1,000 people with candles are expected to line the road leading to the dance venue to show support for the vibrant girl who has touched so many. The candle event is called "Light the Night for Kate."

"I've never seen this community come together quite as much as they have over one single person," school nurse Sharon Shepherd told ABCNews.com. "[Katelyn] will change your life. You'll never be the same. She will make an impact on you. She's a jewel. My life will never be the same."

Shepherd works at Campbell County High School, where Katelyn is a freshman. She has known Katelyn since she was 5 and has grown close to the teen since her diagnosis in eighth-grade.

Shepherd calls Katelyn "my little short and sassy Katie bug" and says she considers Katelyn "one of my own."

"Katelyn is very energetic. She's a fighter," Shepherd said. "She's just very opinionated and very well-spoken, very headstrong, very driven and that's what has gotten her this far."

Katelyn's mother sums up her daughter with the Alicia Keyes song "Girl on Fire," which includes the lyrics, "Looks like a girl, but she's a flame / So bright, she can burn your eyes / Better look the other way / You can try but you'll never forget her name."

Despite her own pain, Katelyn and her best friend, Brandon Huckaby, traveled together as advocates for GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network since they both have family and friends that fall under those identifications.

"She's always used her sense of humor and her grab on others to push to make everything better for everyone," Brandon, 16, told ABCNews.com. "She doesn't care that she's suffering. She cares that other people are suffering and she wants to stop that."

Brandon was saddened when he realized he was going to lose his best friend, but has taken it upon himself to help her accomplish the items on her bucket list.

"I'm losing my best friend and there's not really anything I can do about it so when I figured out there was something I could do, I pretty much put my foot to the ground and said, 'You know what? This is happening. I'm getting this done,'" he said.

One of the items on Katelyn's bucket list was to ride a motorcycle, so Brandon helped organize a motorcycle ride in her honor. On the day of the event, she was too weak to actually ride on one of the bikes, but she rolled down her car window and police escorted her car alongside the motorcycles.

When asked why she wanted to ride a motorcycle, Katelyn said that biker gangs bring people together.

"I love it," Katelyn said of the community support. "The community have always been such a great help and support for me and my family and it's just great."

She worries about helping her family through her death and wants to spend an individual day with each of her three siblings.

"They need it because it's pretty hard on them," she said of her two brothers and one sister. She doesn't know how much time she has left, but she knows it's not much.

"The doctors didn't give us a specific time. They just told her that time was valuable and it was very short," school nurse Shepherd said. "We're just praying that she stays with us as long as we can have her."

Best-friend Brandon said, "She doesn't let the fact that the doctors said she won't last very long bother her. She has an attitude that, 'I'm Katelyn. I'm bald, I'm beautiful and I will beat this.' And if she doesn't beat this, she has brought the community together and raised awareness."

Shepherd said Katelyn and those around her have decided that her last days, however many there are, will be happy ones.

"It's not anything to be down or downtrodden or depressing or discouraging. It's all about a celebration of life," she said. "That's what she wants it to be and that's what it's going to be. Nothing is sad. We're going to have a good time. She's excited about the prom. We've got a lot surprises in store for her."

"Cancer has not beaten her," Shepherd said. "She's still beating cancer, whether in this life or in the life to come. She'll tell you, 'I'll see you on the flip side.'"

Donations to Katelyn's bucket list fund can be made here.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events