The toughest 16-year-old you'll ever meet

Caroline has been battling a brain tumor since she was 9 years old. She had major brain surgery in February of 2016 and is already back to her regular routine - running track and playing the violin. USA TODAY NETWORK

INDIANAPOLIS -- Caroline Kavanaugh turned 16 in April. Since then she’s earned her driver’s license, competed on the cross-country team and attended Perry Meridian’s homecoming with her boyfriend.

Normal teenage stuff. These are milestones that her mother, Barb, celebrates silently. The normal drone of day-to-day life is like a warm blanket on a winter night. “The simple things,” she said, “are what you appreciate the most.”

Caroline is the middle daughter to Kevin and Barb Kavanaugh. She’s a free spirit – “our hippie child,” Barb jokes – but also a high achiever in the classroom with a number of outside interests. She plays the violin in the school orchestra, earned a spot in the school’s show choir this year and is vice president of her chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She’s also a member of the National Honor Society.

Those honors and achievements don’t tell the half of it.

“I’ve never coached a kid like her in 30 years,” said Perry Meridian cross-country coach Mike Armstrong. “She has every reason to quit, cut back a workout or sit out. She blatantly refuses to do that.”

Caroline lives every day with searing headaches, caused by a brain tumor that doctors found seven years ago but can’t fully remove. They tried, in April. After surgery, Caroline temporarily lost use of the left side of her body. She had to reteach herself how to play the violin and – even now – has to remind herself to lift her left foot each stride she takes in a cross-country race.

It was only then, after she missed 23 days of school, that those outside of Caroline’s close circle of family and friends realized she had a brain tumor. Those persistent headaches – she rates them a “6 or 7” every day on a scale of 10 – go unmentioned. Behind those blue eyes, sweet smile and live-and-let-live personality is one of the toughest 16-year-old kids you’ll ever meet.

True toughness. That’s Caroline Kavanaugh.

“She never complains,” her father, Kevin, said. “Her head hurts every day and she fights through it. I’m so proud of her for that.”


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