She was 17 when she died, but lived life her way. Why I now strive to #LiveLifeLikeClaire

Claire Wagonhurst
Claire Wagonhurst

I did a story the other day that really affected me. Claire Wagonhurst was diagnosed with malignant melanoma when she was 14 years old. Turns out a mole she’d always had started to look different. Since teens don’t usually get malignant melanoma – and Claire never tanned and always wore sunscreen – no one thought twice when it took three months to get an appointment to remove it. Another month passed before Claire’s mom Marianne Banister received the results. When they did, they couldn’t believe it.

Three years of surgeries, chemo, and treatments passed. Claire passed away at 17.

Marianne wants everyone with a tween or teen to know that her doctor said that puberty likely played a role. In fact, there are medical studies underway trying to see if adolescence, with all its raging hormones, triggers children getting melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Claire and her mom Marianne
Claire and her mom Marianne

What really stuck with me is not how Claire died, but rather how she lived.

Claire never wanted anyone to know she had cancer. She didn’t want to be treated any differently. Marianne says she never cried, never complained. She made the most of each day.

Claire’s father, Rocky, showed WUSA9 photographer James Hash and I her room. He said, “At times I come, sit here and I talk to her and just chat with her as much as I want to.” In her room are all the reminders of a life full of interests, creativity and a bright cheery outlook: pictures ripped from fashion magazines, a picture of her older sister Hillary, decorations in bright colors Rocky says matched Claire’s personality. She loves Lily Pulitzer, Lauren Conrad, Kate Spade.

After high-dose chemo, Marianne says Claire picked a dress that covered her scars and went out for New Year’s Eve. After a skin graft on her leg left her on crutches, she went to a party.Claireandfriends

“She’s taught me to be positive in every situation and she was never upset about anything never complained about anything,” says Claire’s friend, Nina Sessler.

“Even the reminder of her makes you want to do better and live life like Claire,” says another childhood friend, Kristen Marcotte.

Kristen coined a new mantra, “Live life like Claire.”Claireselfie

Claire created art, drew, painted. had big dreams, applied to colleges, got accepted, and lived life to the fullest. In her teen dreams, she planned to marry an architect, she would become an interior designer, and the two would live in Charleston, South Carolina and open a home design store named, “Clairity.” Claire knew how precious time is, even though she never thought she’d have so little.

Claire made this dress (look closely!)
Claire made this dress (look closely!)
Claire's future husband list
Claire’s future husband list
Claire's fashion sketches
Claire’s fashion sketches

“Claire teaches us that there is beauty in every single day,” says Marianne. “That no matter your circumstances, you can have something wonderful. Something to laugh about, something to be joyful for.”

We can’t bring Claire back, but we can learn from the way she lived, and strive to “live life like Claire.”  We can also pass on the message about adolescence and melanoma.

Tim Turnham, Executive Director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, says the two big takeaways for parents is if your child is born with a mole, or develops one at an early age, be very vigilant about checking the mole regularly. Also, keep all children out of the sun as much as possible and always use sunscreen. “Blistering sunburns double the chances of someone getting melanoma in adulthood.”

Marianne has launched the Claire Marie Foundation to raise awareness and funds for the Baltimore Community Foundation.  Her friends are throwing a fashion show in her honor and there are several events coming up. I will definitely be at least one of the events and every day I vow to try and “live life like Claire.”


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