Editors note: this article was changed to reflect the correct location of Sunday's mass.
Two years ago, Zareli Saavedra was getting treatment for a cancerous brain tumor, and knew her family wouldn't have enough money to throw her a lavish quinceañera when she turned 15. The coming of age celebrations routinely cost families upward of $15,000.
But on Sunday, a tiara sparkled atop Zareli's dark hair, curled for the occasion. Dressed like a princess, with light makeup and butterflies in her stomach, Zareli welcomed more than 100 guests to her quinceañera at The Seville Banquet Center in Streamwood.
And she feels "perfectly fine, thank you."
After her 2010 surgery, a year of treatment, and a year of observation, the 14-year-old Hanover Park native got a clean bill of health last month, and her checkups have been reduced from one per week to one per year.
Her early quinceañera came courtesy of Make-A-Wish Illinois with financial support from Wells Enterprises, Inc., makers of Blue Bunny ice cream. Zareli's actual birthday is Nov. 12, but scheduling conflicts brought her traditional debut as a young lady a few months early.
Make-A-Wish spokeswoman Jessica Miller said more than 70 percent of the wishes they grant are travel-related, and a lot of those are to Disney properties.
Zareli didn't think too long about an exotic vacation or an introduction to a celebrity. She wanted to see all of her family together, happy, and she wanted a quince.
Zareli's older sister, 18-year-old Almagissel, was almost speechless at the way it all worked out.
"I am so happy that I don't even know how to explain it," Almagissel said. "I was so scared that (she wasn't going to) live for this."
Relatives arrived from Colorado, Iowa and Chicago for the celebration, which began at 2 p.m. with a Mass in the chapel at St. Alexius Medical Center, where Zareli received treatment. A limo ride to The Seville brought dinner, dancing and fun -- just what Zareli wanted.
Her mom, Alma Saavedra, said all the hardship of the last few years was worth it to be able to be there Sunday, celebrating Zareli's life and thanking God.
"I feel so proud of my daughter," Saavedra said. "She was so brave through her entire treatment, like a warrior."