Only one thing could keep her from homecoming

It was just another day for Samantha Bell. A good day.

She was driving down Pass Road with a family friend on that September day, searching for music on her phone and paying little attention to her surroundings. Her dad had called and said she should meet him at his furniture store at 5:20 sharp.

He hadn’t eaten all day, he told her, and wanted to take her to dinner.

Wear something nice, he had advised, because they were going to a nice restaurant.

Meanwhile, her driver, Donna Turner-Donoho, was determined to get her attention.

“She said, ‘all these dang hitchhikers,” said Samantha. “And I was like, hitchhikers? In Gulfport? And I looked up and, oh.”

It was the sign at Bayview Furniture, her family’s Pass Road store. Under it was Garrett Waldrop. With flowers. And balloons.

The words “Samantha Will You Go To Homecoming With Me? Love, Garrett” were up on the sign where drivers were used to seeing less-impassioned pleas, such as, “90 Days Same As Cash.”

Oh my goodness, Samantha thought. It was pretty much a given that she’d say yes. They had been friends a couple of years and a couple most of that time.

Of course, whether the date for Oct. 22 comes off as planned depends on Samantha’s doctors.

She has leukemia and goes to Children’s Hospital of New Orleans four or five days a week for chemotherapy. Garrett was just wanting to brighten up one of her days at home. Sometimes she has to stay in the hospital.

“I decided it would be a cool idea if I got her dad to put on the sign the question if she would go to homecoming with me,” Garrett said.

House of Tux has already surprised her by giving her a pink dress she picked out.

Her father, Anthony, said Samantha’s cancer is in remission, but she faces a couple of years of treatment to make sure it stays away.

Samantha says she’s doing very well. She just misses her hair. And football games. And playing sports.

She’s had to give up a lot of that because with her immune system suppressed, she shouldn’t be around large groups of people. She often wears a mask.

Sudden symptoms

She found out she had leukemia this summer.

“I went on a vacation to Disney World and I got all these red bumps and bruises and I wasn’t getting hit or anything,” she said.

She went to her doctor, who had her go on to Memorial Hospital at Gulfport for a CAT scan.

“Right before the CAT scan, my doctor called and said take me to the emergency room because my blood counts came in,” she said. Her trips to New Orleans began soon after.

These are better days

“Today’s like a great day because I don’t have to go to the hospital because I usually have to go four or five times a week if I don’t stay at the hospital,” she said in September.

And soon her hair will be back. She has long, beautiful hair in pre-cancer photos. Before she started chemo, her hairdresser cut it off. And Garrett and other family members shaved theirs in a show of support.

Samantha’s hair is being fashioned into a wig.

High school classes are about to return, too. She will have a homebound teacher. She was too ill to start school with her classmates in August.

“They’re all real sweet,” she said. “They all come here. They just have to clean their hands.”

Her experience could change her career plans, though.

“I wanted to be oncologist and cure cancer, but I don’t know if I still want to do that or be a lawyer or just something random like a carpet stripper,” she said.

Paul Hampton: 228-896-2330, @JPaulHampton