Sparkman Senior Remembered for Smile in the Face of Death

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala.  (WHNT) - Students at Sparkman High School began their day with a sad announcement and moment of silence today.

Sunday morning, February 17th, their classmate Brittany Vann lost her hard-fought battle against liver cancer.

Even though her fellow students and teachers knew it was a terminal illness, Vann's passing had a big impact.

Until last August, the 17-year-old had similar plans for her future as her classmates. That's when her health forced changes.

"She was just starting senior year," Patrick Fitzgerald, the senior class high school president. "You know, as we're planning to go to college, she's planning for a whole different kind of senior year."

Fitzgerald and many others knew Brittany was up against a tough battle when they heard her diagnosis. Sunday morning, after a six-month battle, it came to an end.

"You feel that you lose them twice," said Fitzgerald.  "Because when you find out that it's stage four liver cancer, and you find out what the odds are of someone living after stage four liver cancer, you almost think that, you know what's going to happen."

Cassandra Thrower, Brittany's school adviser, recalled her undaunted spirit and will to live while being treated at a hospital in Birmingham.

"Even in Birmingham, when the doctors finally came in and told her, there's nothing else, she said 'Let's try this or I read this, or let's see about this'.. so she didn't give up easily."

In the end, it was Brittany who was teaching her adviser and classmates about attitude in the face of death.

"She just kept that spunk, you know, just always wanting to know about other people," said Thrower.

"If she had hope and cheer, even in those kind of circumstances, then there's no way that we should give up ever," said Fitzpatrick.

He helped organize a debate at the school during the presidential election.  They called it a Battle for Brittany.

Student Republicans debated against Democrats and raised $2,500 for Brittany's grandparents, who took care of her, and her little brother and sister, whom she adored.

"She always seemed to put herself second and her family first," said Thrower.

And that's why, Thrower says, Brittany wanted to go to college: To get a job and help her family with life's expenses, thinking of others until the end.

Thrower says Brittany passed away at her home, surrounded by family.

The school awarded Brittany an honorary diploma from Sparkman High School several weeks ago.

Madison County Schools offered condolences and support to Vann's family.

"We are deeply saddened by Brittany’s death.  Brittany will be missed by the Sparkman High School family, community, and all that knew her," said Geraldine Tibbs, school system spokesperson.  "We extend sincere sympathy to the Vann family and want them to know that our thoughts and prayers are with them."

"Superintendent David Copeland and the Madison County School family stand ready to assist the family in any way possible," Tibbs added.  "We pray for strength and comfort during this most difficult time."

Brittany's visitation will be Tuesday, February 19 from 5 to 8 p.m. at Berryhill Funeral Home.  The service will be Wednesday, February 20 at 1 p.m.