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'A true blessing': Montana girl's death from cancer saddens 2 communities

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Posted at 8:57 AM, Apr 04, 2024

LAVINA — Determined, kind, and funny are a few words her mother, close friend, and teacher use to describe Lily Whitcomb of Lavina.

“We weren't sure exactly how strong she was going to be through all of this. And she proved that she could just hang in there with the best of them, if not better than the rest of them,” said her mother, Donella Nelson, at the school Tuesday.

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Lily Whitcomb

The eldest of four sisters, Whitcomb succumbed to a type of cancer called Ewing Sarcoma in March. On Thursday, both Lavina and Broadview schools will not be in session to allow hundreds of expected mourners to attend her funeral at the Lavina High School gym at 1 p.m.

Those who love her say she enjoyed making jewelry and playing volleyball, and she was always putting others before herself.

Even after her death, she's still giving back to those who need it most.

“Lily’s wish actually was that, instead of flowers being bought for her service, that people instead donate to the Montana Hope Project in her name. It meant that much to her,” said Nelson.

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Donella Nelson

Sponsored by the Association of Montana Troopers, the Montana Hope Project is a nonprofit that fulfills the wishes of Montana kids who suffer from a terminal, critical or chronic illness.

“I was super inspired that someone who was going through something so hard could give back to other people,” said 19-year-old Makenna Harmon.

Harmon had known Whitcomb since preschool. She watched as Whitcomb would spend hours designing and making jewelry, donating all the proceeds to the Montana Hope Project.

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Makenna Harmon and Lily Whitcomb

“She even did stuff for someone else who was going through cancer at the same time. She made the sticker out there for someone over in Broadview who had cancer, and she was selling bracelets for them too,” added Harmon.

An enlarged version of the sticker now sits on one of Lavina High's walls as a loving reminder. One of Whitcomb's sisters has taken over her mission and will continue to make bracelets, keeping her memory alive.

"I think that she’s someone that everyone should have been able to meet. It was a true blessing to have her in my life and have her show me what life was really like,” Harmon said.

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Makenna Harmon picks out one of the bracelets made by Lily Whitcomb.

“I would wager that this goes farther than Lavina or Broadview, and she has lots of people that she knew along this valley that are also feeling the same way we are,” said Lavina middle school teacher Kelli Schwehr.

Schwehr taught Whitcomb in preschool, middle school and was her volleyball coach when she was in fifth grade. She fondly remembers Whitcomb's determination to master an overhand serve.

“She gritted her teeth and said no, I’m serving it. I’m serving overhand. I'm going to do it," Schwehr said.

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Lavina middle school teacher Kelli Schwehr

Schwehr added that by the end of eighth grade, Whitcomb was the best server on the team.

“From here on out, it will be day by day. I think the students around us will heal, but it will take some time,” said Schwehr.

Though Whitcomb will be dearly missed, she's still inspiring those she leaves behind.

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An enlarged version of the sticker Lily Whitcomb designed now sits on the school wall.

“Don’t give up. There’s always hope. A big thing to Lily was her faith. And that’s what kept her going, her faith, and always knowing that there’s always hope in every situation.” said Nelson.