Zionsville Community High School crowned senior Carly Chapman as their reigning Homecoming Queen on Oct. 1.
“That moment was amazing,” Carly said. “Having my family surrounding me, my family in the stands, and all of my friends there, too… It just made me think, ‘Wow, I am so blessed.’”
Escorted by her brother, Carly was crowned as Homecoming Queen by last year’s queen, as tradition. Last year’s homecoming queen was Carly’s sister, Chandler.
Photographs showed Carly and the other homecoming contestants shivering on the football field of ZCHS. Carly’s silver, knee-length, fitted dress caught the light of the stadium lights, hinting at the shimmery material.
“I couldn’t have chosen a better person to represent our class,” Jennie Lawson, a fellow senior at ZCHS, said. “Carly is such a beautiful girl, inside and out. She greets everyone with a smile and she’s such a blessing to be around.”
Many hugs were exchanged and caught on film, creating lasting memories.
“None of the contestants were really competing for the title,” she said. “They were all very happy for me; we would have been happy with whoever won.”
She sat at the Starbucks table, eyes bright and smiling as she drank her green iced tea. She was dressed casually in jeans and a brightly colored top, and greeted several people inside the café. Carly, whose favorite subject in high school is anatomy, gasped at the idea of loving to write papers.
“That’s what I love about all the different people in the world!” she said excitedly. “Imagine how boring life would be if we were all the same!”
Carly didn’t skip a beat, or lose her infectious grin, when the conversation took a more serious turn.
“You never think, ‘cancer,’ when something comes up,” she said.
At 9-years-old, Carly’s active lifestyle, including gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, and soccer, came to a screeching halt when a large lump was found on her left leg. After a chiropractic visit, Dr. Anderson, a Zionsville chiropractor, implored the Chapmans to take Carly to further investigate the issue.
“I started chemo a week later,” she said, after being diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer found in her left thighbone.
She said at the time, she didn’t understand the severity of her situation. It wasn’t until she was told she wouldn’t be attending summer camp with her siblings that she realized something was terribly wrong.
“It was the last summer we were all in the same age group to attend the same camp,” she said. “When they told me I couldn’t go, that was when I realized how bad this was.”
She explained that her rotation in and out of Riley’s Children Hospital had been in the hospital for a week, and home for three days, then back to the hospital for a week. She said the people of Riley became a family to her, with her surgeon even attending her 16th birthday party.
As part of her treatment, Carly’s left femur bone was removed due to extensive, irreversible damage. A prosthetic femur bone that had been approved just six months prior to Carly’s surgery replaced the bone. This prosthetic was capable of growing with Carly by sliding a magnetic ring around her leg that popped coils allowing for the prosthetic to lengthen.
“It was a miracle that it was approved just before I needed it,” she said.
Carly said she has a couple of inches left of her femur bone near her hip that is attached to her replacement bone that connects to her kneecap.
With this replacement bone, she has many restrictions on her activities. Carly had to give up her sports, but says she doesn’t miss it.
“People ask me if I miss sports, and I really don’t,” she said. “I picked up music and other activities. There are so many other things in life!”
Carly said that after weighing the risks, being active in sports just isn’t worth the risk of having what little bit of bone she has left breaking.
“I still have my family. I still have my life. I still have my leg—which is incredible,” she said with a giant grin.
Instead of spending her time in sports, Carly took up musical activities. She sang in the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, joined the Choralaires, the show choir in her highschool, for a year and later joined the Chamber Choir in her high school.
As music filled the void that sports left, she said she experienced more in her life, and realized that there is so much for which to live.
During her treatment, Carly said she loved craft time the best.
“I still remember! It was from 10 a.m. until noon, then again from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m.,” she exclaimed. “I learned how to knit!”
She said she also learned to trust people fully during this time, having little choice but to rely completely on others.
“When you have to rely on other people to do everything for you, you just learn to trust,” she said. “You don’t have a choice.”
This difficult time in her life also brought her closer to God, she said. Her sister, Chandler also said this time brought her closer to her family and God.
“That was the year I would say that my family all learned how dependent we are on Christ,” Chandler said. “Prayer was the only way we could help her as we were watching her go through so much pain.”
Chandler also described how prior to this difficult time, she and Carly fought like siblings typically do, but after seeing her fight so hard for her life, it put things into perspective. She says she and her sister are each other’s closest friends and encouragers.
“I don’t really remember the bad times,” Carly said looking back.
She described how her mother tells her stories about her time in the hospital and Carly will have no recollection of these memories. She said instead she focuses on what she learned and how she can better her life through this situation.
Carly will turn 18 in spring, on what she described as the perfect date.
“Ya know, like in Miss Congeniality when she answered the perfect date question, ‘I would have to say April 25th, not too hot, not too cold,’” she said, quoting the movie with a smile.
Carly says her plans after high school involve going into Communications with intentions of following with medical school to become a Pediatric Oncologist, a doctor specializing in childhood cancer.
“Over fall break we’re going to visit Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida,” she said.
She explained it is a small, Christian school that enrolls a fraction of the students compared to her high school. She is looking forward to the intimacy that a smaller school would bring and says she will “see where God leads” her.
Ultimately, Carly wants to end up working at Riley, the same place she considered her home away from home starting at age 9.
Going through high school, she sees people fretting about small things: homework, quizzes and other high school stresses. Instead, Carly focuses on what really matters, like her family who had been by her side and her biggest supporter during the darkest times of her life.
“I remember while I was in the hospital, there were a lot of kids who didn’t have that,” she said. “It was harder, both emotionally and physically, for them.”
Although her family means everything to her, Carly says she is excited to look into a school in Florida. The warmth Florida will offer helps with motion.
“The winter months are really painful for her because every step she takes is a challenge,” her sister, Chandler Chapman, said, “but I have never once heard her complain. She gets it, what most of us miss; we are a miracle of God’s beautiful creation. A grateful heart leads her to a life of positivity and opportunity.”
Carly expresses her gratitude for the people of Riley. She says she has done a lot of volunteering for them and has had the privilege to do speaking events for fundraisers where she would tell her story. She went on to say that she has met Peyton Manning, bowled with Jeff Gordon, and co-starred in a commercial with Tony Dungy.
With a beaming face, she read a text message from her phone, stating Jason Mueller, the Assistant Manager of Communications for Riley Children’s Hospital, called her their “unofficial spokesperson,” just that afternoon.
“They inspire me to be my best, because they’ve done their best for me,” she said with a smile.