'She never stopped smiling': Rick Riblet, Alex Goudy and Nancy Streitmatter discusses Caitlynn's passing

PAXTON -- Through her four-year battle with cancer, Caitlynn Riblet always kept a positive attitude.
 
"She never stopped smiling," said Rick Riblet, Caitlynn's father. "No matter how much it hurt, she never stopped."
 
The journey came to an end at 5:40 p.m. last Thursday, when Caitlynn passed away.
 
It started in December 2013, when she fell on her buttocks during a Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School basketball practice.
 
"It kept hurting, and as time went on, it got worse," Rick Riblet said.
 
After some preliminary scans were done, Caitlynn was sent up to Chicago to do more scans, and that is where she learned she had a form of bone cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma. 
 
"You don't know if it was there to begin with, or when she fell on her butt, she fractured a bone, and that led to cancer. We don't know," Rick Riblet said. "We'll never know. The doctors had no reason to tell us why she had cancer."
 
The Sarcoma in Caitlynn's sacrum would soon be 95 percent dead, and in the Facebook account Caitlynn's Journey, it was posted in April 2016 that all scans were clear.
 
After it was posted in September 2016 that Caitlynn "has been having lots of pain in her Sacrum/Tailbone lately," she took two more trips to the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where it was confirmed in October that a Ewing's Sarcoma-like cancer occurred.
 
"They didn't really have a name for it," Rick said. "It was super-rare. It was a lot more aggressive."
 
At the Cleveland Clinic, doctors performed a cryoblation on Caitlynn, which killed 90 percent of the tumors. The remaining 10 percent, according to Caitlynn's Journey in a Feb. 21 post, "will be left up in the air for radiation, chemotherapy or another cryoblation."
 
"It was a mess. It was inoperable," Rick said. "They didn't want to do any radiation on it because the first time, it basically destroyed her sacrum bones."
 
It was declared in August that "there is no treatment" for her tumors.
 
"They just said there's nothing, medically, they can do for her anymore," Rick Riblet said.
 
Caitlynn then spent the rest of her life at the home of her mother, Kelly Jo Watson Fessler.
 
"From the time she got sent home from Cleveland to the time she passed away, it was two weeks," Rick Riblet said. "It went pretty quickly. The cancer progressed so much. It was growing so fast. It was crazy."
 
Dr. Paul Kent from Rush came down to Loda last Wednesday night at 11 p.m. to visit as well
 
"He's a heck of a guy," Rick said. "You don't see many doctors do that from two hours away."
 
Caitlynn's hospice nurse received high praise from Rick as well.
 
"She was awesome," Rick said. "She was great. She came in on her days off. She was there minutes after Caitlynn passed away."
 
After her four-year journey with cancer, Caitlynn passed away peacefully last Thursday.
 
"I think she just had it. She was done and didn't want any more to do with it. I don't want to say she gave up," Rick said. "I think she just had enough."
 
Still, Rick said Caitlynn kept her upbeat attitude.
 
"There's a lot of people going through that house -- a lot of girls, a lot of parents. She was always smiling, always happy. Everybody who came to see her, she was always happy to see them. She never acted like she was sick," Rick said. 
 
"That was one good thing about it. Through her last days, she didn't need anything. Most people in hospice need oxygen or other means to keep them going, but she was comfortable and died peacefully -- no more needles, no more poking and prodding. It's a blessing that she went peacefully. She suffered too long."
 
Caitlynn's upbeat attitude, Rick said, should serve as an example for others.
 
"When we get an ache or a pain, we've got to remember that Caitlynn didn't complain about hers, so we probably shouldn't complain about ours."
 
***
Caitlynn's smile was well-known to many of her acquaintances, including the hospice nurse who saw Caitlynn at her mother's home during her final weeks.
 
On an evaluation of 1-10, the hospice nurse, according to Rick, said Caitlynn was at an 8-9 on pain.
 
"She was laying there talking to me smiling and laughing, and we said, 'Yeah, that's Caitlynn,' Rick said. "She would never tell anybody she was in pain. She always cared about everybody else and put her problems aside. That's what everybody says -- she was always smiling."
 
It was also well-known to Alex Goudy, Caitlynn's former swim coach when she swam for the Paxton Aquatic Wildcats.
 
"It was kind of a hard loss because she always had that contagious smile," Goudy said. "Everybody keeps saying that, but it's true. When you think of her, she's always smiling. It's too bad that her life had to end so soon. She was a wonderful kid, and it's a shame that she's not going to be here."
 
Caitlynn's care for others was shown on Sept. 5, 2015, when she held a cupcake bake through the Paxton Park District as a fundraiser for Rush.
 
"That's when she was feeling good. She always wanted to give back to the people who helped her through the cancer," Rick said. "She was always giving back and wanting to help someone else out."
 
The Paxton Park District is looking to construct a bench, a table or another object near the public swimming pool in honor of Caitlynn for, according to Kaye Harper's Facebook post, "her dedication to the Paxton Pool and all the friends she met along the way."
 
Caitlynn was a member of the Paxton Aquatic Wildcats for what Rick estimated to be about six years, along with being a member of PBL High School's volleyball, girls basketball and track and field teams, and a gymnast in her younger years.
 
"She loved swimming. That was her favorite sport," Rick said. "She was always in sports. Every meet, she gained a new friend or two, or three, or four.
 
"She always wanted to help somebody out, especially with the swim team. She was donating her time to help the little kids on the swim team. When she was in volleyball, she was there to keep everybody together, to keep their spirits up. The same with basketball."
 
"She was always a hard worker," Goudy added. "On the swim team, the older kids mess around because it's a social hour for them, but I don't remember having to get onto her much. She was a hard worker, and she always had a smile on her face, and everyone always loved her."
 
After Caitlynn was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma in 2013, she still wanted to swim for the team for which she swam under Goudy's tutelage since she was an 11-year-old. Caitlynn and Goudy's daughter, Kalli, were on the team prior to Alex Goudy taking over as head coach.
 
"So for at least 10 years, I've known Caitlynn," Alex Goudy said. "She just couldn't because she was so tired. She said, 'I can't swim, but I'd still really want to help.'"
 
Caitlynn helped by serving as a time runner, collecting time cards from scorekeepers and giving them to datakeepers so they can record swim results on their computers.
 
"So she came to all of those home meets and was our runner for us," Goudy said. "That's something I'll never forget and I really appreciate because it's hard to get parents to work when they want to watch their kids and stuff. She just wanted to be a part of the team.
 
"The younger kids always looked up to her. Everybody liked Caitlynn. All groups of kids liked Caitlynn. She's one of those kids who everybody just always liked."
 
Caitlynn's willingness to help out runs in the family, Goudy said, as evidenced by Rick bringing a grill to a conference meet one year to cook food for the swimmers.
 
"She had wonderful parents on her side the entire time. Her dad always went above and beyond," Goudy said.
 
The local community returned the favor with fundraisers to help her with hospital bills.
 
"There were so many of them I can't remember," Rick said. "We're happy for it because she had a lot of bills." 
 
In one year of going through cancer, radiation, chemo and doctor's visits, hospital bills totaled around $750,000.
 
"That's crazy," Rick said. "That's why health care is so expensive."
 
The PBL community was active in helping out with what a Facebook account named "Caitlynn's Journey."
 
Through the journey, fundraisers were held at PBL High School, among other places. The "Fight Like a Girl" Cut-a-Thon held in January 2014 raised over $2,000, including over $280 raised through the shaving of my face. 
 
The following February, a "Play for Cait..." fundraiser was held during a high school basketball game between PBL and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley that raised over $10,000 for Riblet’s treatments.
 
The jouney through Riblet's treatments were defined by the slogan "Fight Like a Girl," a slogan seen on T-shirts designed by Michelle Poll of Michelle's House of Embroidery worn by PBL students and faculty alike every Thursday. 
 
The PBL girls track and field team, for which Caitlynn ran the 200-meter dash during her freshman year, wore T-shirts and bandanas -- stating run, jump or throw for Caitlynn -- in honor of her as well.
 
"I think she appreciated it when we did those shirts," Goudy said. "That was a good memory, too, because she was here when we did that. We always tried to do team bonding stuff, and we based some of it off of that."
 
A pancake breakfast was held at St. Mary Catholic Church in Paxton. Dale Puls, founder of a charity called Just An Angel, did a poker run for Caitlynn. 
 
"The First Lutheran Church always sneaking money into her (Caitlynn's Journey) account at Farmers-Merchants," Rick said. 
 
Goudy also helped put together a Pink Heals fundraising event on Sept. 26, 2014, during which a non-profit organization called Pink Heals stopped by Zimmerman Field during PBL's homecoming game with a pink firetruck, giving away $2,000 each to PBL students Caitlynn and Jordan Reynolds, each of whom were diagnosed with cancer over the past year, and 2-year-old Mason Whitaker, who was diagnosed with leukemia.
 
"She was really surprised that night," Goudy said. "None of those kids knew that it was coming for them."
 
Puls is putting together another poker run on Sept. 30 in memory of Caitlynn. He plans, according to Rick, to put money into an account.
 
"So if he finds a couple of kids who need money, he'll pull money out to give to the kids," Rick said. "He said it was a lot easier than getting attached to one kid. After he helped Caitlynn, he got too attached. It was hard for him."
 
***
During a remission period that last for nearly two years, Caitlynn graduated from PBL in 2016.
 
She tried to attend Illinois State University, majoring in education.
 
"By the end of the school year, she told me that it was her plan to go to school to be an English teacher because of her experience in senior English," said Nancy Streitmatter, a PBL High School English teacher who had Caitlynn in her class during her senior year. "She never complained and knew that doing the work that she had to was ultimately going to benefit her. She would just always go head-on and get it done.
 
"I remember her very well. She was excellent, always very diligent and on top of her work. She was very positive about getting her work done and following through on assignments and did it with a great deal of enthusiasm and dedication."
 
Unfortunately, Caitlynn's condition rendered her unable to stay at ISU
 
"She just couldn't do it," Rick said. "She was too tired." 
 
Caitlynn passed Parkland College online classes in business. 
 
"She did very well in that," Rick said.
 
Meanwhile, Caitlynn served as a team manager for PBL High School's volleyball and girls basketball teams as well.
 
"Caitlynn was the glue that held (them) all together," Rick said. "It's a very good statement for Caitlynn. She was always smiling. She didn't have an enemy in the world. She loved everybody. She was a good kid."
 
"She's truly a spirit that our world was robbed of," Streitmatter said. "She had a lot to contribute, and I know that her memories will last, but it's unfortunate that we won't get to see all that she was meant to do."
 
***
A funeral mass will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, at St. Mary Catholic Church, 407 W. Pells St., Paxton. Burial will follow in Glen Cemetery in Paxton. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, at Baier Family Funeral Services, 406 E. Pells St., Paxton, with a rosary at 3:30 p.m.
 
"It's going to be packed," Rick Riblet said. "I would imagine the whole town will probably shut down."
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