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Local woman, 24, flown home to end seven-year battle with cancer

STORY BY MICHELLE GENZ, (Week of June 27, 2013)
Photo: Samantha Lovely being made up on her wedding day.

Kevin Lovely flew his daughter home to Vero just in time for Father’s Day. She made it through his birthday three days later, but she did not make it to her first wedding anniversary last Sunday.

Samantha Lovely Gautier, 24, battling ovarian cancer since the age of 17, died as the sun rose Thursday, just four days after an air ambulance brought her home from a Chicago hospital.

Lovely, a plumber, and his wife Lucy, a pedicurist at the island shoe store Tootsies, made sure their daughter’s last wish came true, flying her home in an air ambulance at a cost of $22,000.

“Dad, no matter what, I don’t want to die in this hospital,” she pleaded, as her body began to fail in the middle of yet another course of chemotherapy.

Kevin Lovely told his wife to get the credit limit raised on her credit card.   As they wheeled Samantha out of the hospital in Chicago, nurses, doctors and patients lined the hallways clapping. “She touched so many hearts there,” said her dad. 

Just last summer, Kevin Lovely walked his daughter down a very different aisle, as a beautiful bride before a crowd of 200. Her new husband was Paul Gautier, a deputy sheriff, and by the Lovely’s standards, a living saint. Gautier’s own mother had died of ovarian cancer at 35, having been diagnosed at 22.

Samantha was dressed in a white strapless gown. Dark curls cascaded down her shoulders, a wig. She lost her hair to chemo.

Kevin Lovely, an Irish redhead, had gone gray waiting for his daughter to be cured.

Since Father’s Day, the stubble on his face had gone untended while he stood vigil at her bedside.

And he neglected to shave around his wrist as he usually does to show off the tattoo he got six years ago. Samantha got one at the same time, on her shoulder.  It was a joint celebration of her brief remission. The turquoise tattoos support a cure for ovarian cancer.    

As for Samantha’s mother, Lucy Lovely’s co-workers at Tootsies are taking up a collection to help with the cost of flying Samantha home. In the first two days alone, they raised more than $4,000.

Luchy Turati does pedicures at the station next to Lucy’s. She cancelled a two-month trip to Costa Rica to be with her friend. She had spent 30 hours straight with Lucy when Samantha died.

“I would do anything for her,” she said. “Lucy is my best friend. She is my sister.”

One block over at the Tides restaurant, manager Claudia Arens’s heart was heavy as well. She loved Samantha like a daughter, Kevin Lovely says, and had known her since she was in middle school. Their shared love of dogs brought them together: the Lovelys are mad about Wheaten terriers.

A couple of months back, when Samantha was at Indian River Medical Center, she suddenly woke up hungry. It was Arens’ busy time at the Tides, but Kevin Lovely called her anyway. “I told her, ‘Your daughter’s hungry.’ That’s all I had to say. She must have packed up 20 different things to eat, chicken, pasta, dessert, you name it.”

Last August, when Samantha Facebook-ed Mark Rodolico at his salon, Mark’s at the Pointe, it was to ask for a job doing facials. Rodolico didn’t hesitate.

“I’m a cancer survivor, are you kidding?” he asked. “I said, Come do your thing, you know. Live. And when you feel bad, disappear.”

She ended up teaching him how to fit wigs for cancer patients. “That girl’s so positive, she made you analyze your own life,” Rodolico said.

Samantha wanted only “positive people” around her, Lucy Lovely says. Support groups weren’t her thing.

That didn’t mean she wasn’t public with her disease. In high school, she straightened out rude classmates in a hurry when they wrongly believed ovarian cancer was caused by an STD.

Later, in remission, she went to Indian River State College to become an esthetician. When she learned of a local seminar called “Look Good Feel Better,” she arrived without her wig.

“She inspired my daughter to be natural,” said Tammi Lynch, a manager at Dockside Grille. Her daughter was the same age as Samantha – 17 – when she faced down bone cancer in her pelvis. Her daughter is in remission, and Lynch has a 5-month old grandbaby.

Samantha wasn’t as lucky. Her cancer, ovarian serous carcinoma, is rare in adolescents.  She was a senior at Sebastian River High School, looking forward to a career as a physician’s assistant when symptoms first appeared – abdominal pain and a bulging stomach even though she was hardly eating.

She challenged a doctor who told her the swelling was a pregnancy. Impossible, she said, and an ultrasound proved her horribly right. Two large tumors were found. 

On Valentine’s Day 2007, what was to be a two-hour surgery stretched into eight hours. She began chemo shortly afterwards for stage 2 ovarian cancer. By the end of treatment, she was at stage 3.

Doctors removed her ovaries, and put a port into her vein for chemotherapy.

“It was supposed to be a fun senior year with parties and many more exciting things,” she wrote in a post to a cancer website. “I spent most of the time at home getting sick, but I kept my faith and I stayed strong.”

It was a tough phase for a tight-knit, Roman Catholic and extremely protective family. “She was so scared by her disease that her mind went astray,” said her dad.

At last, her tests came back clean. Samantha wrote, “That was the happiest day of my life.”

For the next year, all was well. She proudly competed in fitness and figure competitions. She even went skydiving with her sister Melissa, a fourth-grade teacher at North County Charter Elementary.

The family ran half-marathons and relays to raise money for cancer research. Samantha marched in Washington, DC, and made a commercial for the Ovarian Cancer Institute that announced “This is the new face of ovarian cancer.” 

In the summer of 2010, she had her port removed. Then around Christmas, she started feeling “weird” again.

The cancer had come back.    

Paul Gautier, Samantha’s husband, has been a godsend – literally, according to Samantha’s parents. “He’s an angel God sent to watch our baby,” said Lucy Lovely.

“He’s beyond wonderful. He’s one in a million,” said Christina Corripio, a manager of Tootsies and a member of the couple’s wedding party.

Samantha quickly embraced Gautier’s 10- and 13-year-old sons by a first marriage when they met three years ago. When referring to her, no one used the word “step” in front of “mother.”

After the wedding, the couple bought a house in a quiet Sebastian neighborhood, and Kevin Lovely and his new son-in-law renovated it top to bottom. Samantha wanted so badly to spend her last days there.

“We believe in miracles,” Kevin Lovely said on the next-to-last day of his daughter’s life. “She’s not ready to go. And I’m not ready to let her go. But she’s not my child. She’s God’s child.”

In her last moments, Samantha told her mother her plan for the afterlife. “She said she would be a butterfly angel,” said Lucy Lovely, her dark eyes stained red from exhaustion and tears. “She loved butterflies from the time she was a little girl.”

By the afternoon, a friend had designed a turquoise decal of a kneeling angel with a butterfly for wings that they could all put in their car windows. “Sammy Gautier, Gone Too Soon,” it read.

Anyone wanting to donate to the fund to defray the cost of bringing Samantha home can call or visit Tootsies shoe salon at 3001 Ocean Drive, Vero Beach, 772-234-6783.