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December 02, 2004

Author: GREG HARDESTY - The Orange County Register

Camie bands are available for $2 in the CHOC Gift Shop
It's a light-fuchsia dress, size 9. From Nordstrom. Similar to the one she wore at her 16th birthday party on Nov. 10.

Camarae Nichol "Camie" Casillas will wear the dress to her funeral, which will come soon -- perhaps within days.

She has been putting on makeup since her Sweet Sixteenth. Her mother made her wait until then before she could wear eye shadow or lipstick.

"I thought I would be 15 forever," Camie said Wednesday, from her bed at Children's Hospital of Orange County, where she is near the end of a two-year battle with leukemia.

Speaking softly, her brown eyes dancing with energy, Camie is not morose or depressed. The former cheerleader and straight-A student is at peace, and more concerned about her family and friends than about dying.

"She's teaching us a lot of lessons," said Dr. Ivan Kirov, director of the recurrent cancer program at the CHOC Cancer Institute. "She's a tremendous example of strength, a positive attitude and maturity."

Camie discussed her funeral as if she were talking about a wedding or a party. She has picked out the music and the six men who will carry her casket.

The flowers will be pink, purple and white -- mostly lilies.

"I told my mom, 'I want to do this my way, so I don't have to come back and haunt you,' " said Camie, who in addition to planning her funeral is creating her own legacy.

Inspired by the yellow wristbands that cyclist Lance Armstrong sells to raise money for cancer research, Camie and a CHOC social worker, Mitzi Bennett, came up with the idea of "Camie Bands," which will go on sale in the Orange hospital's gift shop after Jan. 1.

The $2, periwinkle-blue bands bear the inscription "Stay Strong" and will benefit cancer research at CHOC. Hospital fund-raising groups came up with $3,500 to make 2,500 of the wristbands.

Camie, who grew up in Placentia, hopes the bracelets will inspire cancer patients to never lose hope.

And she hopes the bracelets will inspire those who are losing the battle to face death bravely.

"I want (cancer patients) to remember that they have to stay strong," Camie said. "I want them to believe in the doctors and nurses and the treatment they are receiving, and to not give up."

Camie looked at her sister, Larissa, 12.

"After (I'm gone), who's going to talk to her about boys?" said Camie, sitting cross-legged atop her bed on a pink blanket, which matched her painted fingernails and toenails.

"Who's going to do her hair? Are her clothes going to match? I mean, the other day, she wore a pink top with maroon pants!"

Larissa, mother Elizabeth, 34, father David, 30, brother Anthony, 17, and best friend Deidre Hanson, 16, are among those who are keeping an around-the-clock vigil in Camie's room.

She also has two other brothers, David Jr., 7, and Daniel, 14 months.

The Casillas family, which moved to Corona six years ago, celebrated Christmas on Sunday, filling Camie's room with the comforting aroma of homemade tamales.

She got a stocking stuffed with candy, including her favorite: fruit-punch-flavored Pixy Stix.

Throughout Wednesday morning, Camie coughed -- deep, persistent coughs that are symptoms of her terminal condition.

Her chest hurt. She dabbed a white tissue at a bloody nose. She put on a pink Roxy sweatshirt after she got a chill in her blue shorts and brown T-shirt.

She plopped a cough drop in her mouth after swiping her lips with Sugar Daddy caramel lip balm.

Diagnosed with type-ALL leukemia on Dec. 10, 2002, Camie underwent several rounds of chemotherapy.

The cancer returned in September.

On Thanksgiving morning, Camie told her parents she wanted to stop all treatment when doctors told her there wasn't much hope.

"We're just enjoying our time with her," Elizabeth Casillas said.

Camie said learning everything about leukemia has made it easier to accept her death -- that, and a strong faith in God.

She thought she was going to die Tuesday night, when she had a heavy nosebleed. She pinched her nose with ice-cold towels. Her heart raced.

About an hour later, the bleeding stopped.

Medication for pain and nausea will make the end peaceful, Kirov said.

Camie tries to imagine what death will be like.

"I just hope it's peaceful, and something my friends and family will understand -- something that won't make them scream or go crazy," she said.

"I don't know what it's going to be like up there, but I know I have many friends waiting to greet me.

"I think maybe there will be a dog, or my brother's iguana. There are a couple of rabbits that have died, some fish."

Also waiting for her, Camie figured, will be Raquel Hernandez, 7, of Fountain Valley, Camie's hospital friend who died Dec. 27 from the same cancer.

"When I see her, I'll tell her that I missed her, and ask her if she's ready for a game of Battleship," Camie said.

As her life comes to an end, Camie's thoughts mostly are on normal stuff, like makeup and watching a favorite show, "Cops."

And boys?

"Well," Camie said, smiling at her sister, "there was this one guy. He was adorable, but had real chubby legs."

Larissa cracked up.

Camie then turned her attention to her fingernails, filing them with a pink emery board, one after the other, slowly and carefully, getting them just right.

The Washington Mutual Ladera Ranch Financial Center has set up an account to support the Casillas family financially. To make a donation, contact Jake Aguas at (949) 365-8785 or jake.aguas@wamu.net (714) 796-2286 or ghardesty@ocregister.com

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