At this time last year, Destiny Hessel had just finished what she hoped would be her last round of chemotherapy for bone cancer.
She had wanted to attend the annual Dream Night Prom for children with cancer, "but she was feeling rough," her mother, Sandy Hessel, said.
One year later, with her cancer in remission, Destiny, 14, is going to the prom - and this year, in addition to attending, she helped to plan it.
"When I went to the first meeting, we were trying to figure out a theme for the prom, and I gave the idea for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," Destiny said. "In previous years they had secret agents and Alice in Wonderland, so I was trying to think of some stuff you could do for it - Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory decorations and stuff."
Saturday afternoon, Destiny went to a salon to have her hair done. Then she donned a gauzy, floor-length, navy blue gown and headed for the Amethyst Room at the Pima Community College Downtown Campus for the prom, put on by the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Southern Arizona.
This is the eighth year the Candlelighters have organized the event for teens diagnosed with cancer. It is especially meaningful to teens and their families because a cancer diagnosis can cause challenges that make a normal social life difficult. Treatments can cause hair loss, weight changes and other physical challenges. Long hospital stays can disrupt usual social activities, and important milestones are often missed.
Last year was tough for Destiny and her family, but this year they were ready for some fun. They made the prom a family affair - Sandy and Brian Hessel volunteered at the event while their daughter dined and danced.
The first Dream Night Prom, in 2006, was the creation of teenager Carina Groves, who envisioned the event as a high school senior project. The 50 teens who attended found the prom to be both fun and healing, and encouraged the Candlelighters to make it an annual event.
Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Southern Arizona is a nonprofit, family-run support network that supports, serves and advocates for children with cancer, their families, longtime survivors, bereaved families, and the professionals who care for them. Candlelighters programs are always free to the families it serves, which now numbers 350.
The group gets its name from the Chinese proverb, "It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." Candlelighters was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1970, and the Tucson chapter started in 1985.
Cancer remains the No. 1 disease killer of America's children. More than 12,400 kids in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer each year, including about 60 in Southern Arizona.
"When I went to the first meeting, we were trying to figure out a theme for the prom, and I gave the idea for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."
Destiny Hessel, 14, cancer in remission - going to her prom
For more information about Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Southern AZ, visit www.candlelightersaz.org.
Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4191.