From surgery gown to ball gown

For Tumwater’s homecoming princess, the event was all about getting out of the hospital

lpemberton@theolympian.comOctober 26, 2013 

An elegant dress with a train. A gel manicure. The perfect hairstyle.

Tumwater High School homecoming princess Rachael Buck, 14, smiled for photographs Friday morning with other members of the Thunderbird royal court during an all-school assembly.

“She had 45 nominations for homecoming, which is unheard of,” said principal Jeff Broome.

After the assembly, Buck rested in a chair. She looked exhausted, but reflected on what it was like to be part of the high school’s homecoming tradition.

“It felt good,” the freshman said. “It was awesome.”

Buck grew up in Littlerock and has attended schools in the Tumwater School District her entire life. But since August 2012, she and her mom have lived at the Ronald McDonald House near Seattle Children’s Hospital, where she’s been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy for osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.

They returned to South Sound about a month ago.

“We’ve been taking a little break, enjoying being home,” said her mother, Amy Buck. “We have scans at the end of the month and see where we go from there.”

Osteosarcoma is the most common bone cancer in children, and its cause is unknown, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

In addition to chemotherapy and radiation, Buck endured several surgeries and battled some major infections during the past year. At one point, she had a collapsed lung.

“She’s just so tough and strong,” Amy Buck said, brushing away tears.

Buck missed all of eighth grade due to her treatment. She’s now attending school about two hours a day, which is as much as she can physically handle, Broome said.

But in that short time, Tumwater High School teacher Joey Powers said Buck has become well known.

“She’s a loved member of this community,” Powers said. “She definitely made a difference to every life that she’s affected this year.”

Powers’ Renaissance class, which organizes recognition events at the school and leads community service projects, decided to campaign for Buck’s election for homecoming.

She won by a landslide, Powers said.

“We knew it would make her happy,” said senior Kaitlyn Golphenee, 17. “Rachael is the most incredible person I’ve ever met in my entire life. She has influenced me so much in the short time I’ve known her.”

Buck said she was surprised by the honor. She was looking forward to attending Friday’s football game, where the homecoming queen would be crowned during halftime, and a barbecue with friends before the formal dance on Saturday.

Amy Buck said she’s grateful for the fundraisers and other ways that people have reached out to her family.

“Everybody has been supportive to us,” she said. “I just don’t know how we would have made it without the support of the community. … I’m so grateful every day for the wonderful friends and the community we have.”

She’s also thankful that her daughter had a chance to enjoy her school’s homecoming festivities.

“It’s just a wonderful change of pace,” Amy Buck said. “It’s nice being able to do something fun and normal. She spent almost a year in and out of the hospital — mostly in — so it’s nice to be home and have some normalcy.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 @Lisa_Pemberton

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