Published: May 27, 2013
As Amber Moore waited for her date to the Air Force Academy's ring dance to arrive Friday, butterflies flittered in her stomach.
She'd anticipated them. They were nearly the only aspect of the day that had gone as expected.
Moore's date, academy junior cadet Joseph Abakunda, had planned to pick her up in a limo that evening and whisk her away to the formal dance. The event is part of academy tradition and is where juniors receive their class rings.
Instead, Moore's tuxedo-clad teenage brother wheeled her through the halls of Memorial Hospital's pediatric ward, the folds of her violet dress cascading over her wheelchair's footrests and brakes.
Moore was too sick to attend Friday night's dance, so hospital staff brought the dance to her Friday afternoon.
Attending a ring dance was never a goal of Moore, an 18-year-old waitress at Fountain's Applebee's who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in December.
She'd never even heard of the dance until last month, when a hospital worker told her about a cadet from Rwanda who wanted to take a cancer patient to the dance as his date.
Moore giddily agreed to go.
Those dreams were dashed two weeks ago when Moore developed a blood infection - a consequence of chemotherapy treatments that ravaged her immune system.
Moore texted Abakunda to let him know she couldn't make it.
"Go anyway and have fun," she typed.
Hospital staff weren't ready to give up on her dream so quickly.
Unbeknownst to Moore, they reserved a corner conference room on the pediatric floor with a clear view of Pikes Peak.
Inspired by her purple dress and its blue shimmer, they hung puffy aqua-colored paper flowers from the ceiling and sprinkled tables with blue M&Ms and purple Jolly Ranchers.
On Friday morning, Moore's mother asked her if she felt like Cinderella.
"The hospital is bringing the ball to you," her mom told her before letting the cat out of the bag.
Moore was stunned.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I'm really glad it's happening," she said Friday afternoon as she waited in the decorated conference room for her date to arrive.
She fought back tears as she discussed her cancer.
"They're fighting it as good as they can, and hopefully they get it away quick," she said.
When Abakunda arrived, he handed Moore a bouquet of brightly colored flowers.
"Thanks for accepting my invitation to come. I was very humbled," said Abakunda, who wore his dress uniform and a black bow tie.
A smile quickly spread across Moore's lips.
"You look so happy, babe," her mother said as Abakunda moved behind her wheelchair and in between IV poles for pictures.
But the commotion quickly exhausted Moore.
"I'm getting hit. I'm feeling it," she whispered to her mom as her father made small talk with Abakunda over a catered lunch.
Though pop music floated through the room, there would be no dancing for Moore on Friday. She was too weak to get out of her wheelchair.
As those around her ate, her plate of berries sat untouched. She sipped water, took labored breaths and fought heavy eyelids.
Silence filled the room.
Her mom spoke up to fill it.
She told the story of how a dress shop in Widefield donated Moore's ball gown when they learned her story.
"There are still people out there who are pretty neat people," she said, eyeing Abakunda.