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Lockeford resident fulfills her friend’s dream after he loses battle with cancer

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Posted: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 8:53 am, Fri Jun 10, 2011.

Connor Hall hung on to see the birthday of his best friend, Jessica Smith, before he died at 12:16 a.m. on Oct. 24.

After battling cancer for four years, the 19-year-old died on the day that he was supposed to go with Jessica to a shooting of "The Price Is Right" in Los Angeles.

The lifelong friends used to watch the show when they were younger, and made a pact to go the day Jessica turned 18.

"A lot of people told me that I was the one that made him live for that long. I was his motivation and courage," she said.

On May 23 — Connor's birthday — Jessica was in the studio audience of the "The Price is Right" with her mom and close friends to fulfill the dream she spent endless hours discussing with Connor.

After he died, Jessica was not sure if she had the strength to go.

"For the first three months, I said, 'I'm not going if he isn't going.' But people told me, 'He's still there with you, and this is something he would want you to do, and he would want you to love it,'" she said.

The episode of "The Price Is Right" will air at 10 a.m. today on CBS 13. The group wore neon green shirts that said, "In honor of Connor's special day, pick Jessica as the one to play."

A member of her group made it onto the show, and Jessica plans to watch it with her family and Connor's family tonight.

The two grew up in Lockeford and met when their sisters became friends in kindergarten. Their families started spending vacations together, skiing in Lake Tahoe, and boating and camping at New Lake Hogan. The two loved going to Pismo Beach to ride quads and dirt bikes.

The families always joked about them dating, but they were more like sister and brother, Jessica said. She went to his prom sophomore year at St. Mary's High School.

Shortly after that, Connor went to the doctor.

He was very thin, and kept telling his mom that something was wrong, Jessica said. The doctor diagnosed him with a rare from of thyroid cancer in 2006. He spent months at Stanford Cancer Center receiving chemotherapy, and was in and out of the hospital over a four-year period.

Connor always wore a baseball cap because he didn't want to be viewed as sick, Jessica said.

"There were very rare times where he would admit to being sick, and say, 'I can't do this, it's too much.' ... He's very brave and always had a smile. He never let people feel sorry for him," she said.

Connor would still go boating, even though he couldn't get in the water, and went to the Grape Festival in September, despite not having much energy.

Jessica graduated from Lodi High School at the age of 16 and went to Sonoma State University for her freshman year. When Connor started to get progressively worse, she transferred to University of the Pacific and stopped by his house every day after school. They would talk or go out for dinner at Chili's to get Connor out of the house.

Sometimes while driving places, she would have to stop so he could throw up, or he had headaches.

"I've kind of been the one who has been there all along the way. When he was sick, I was by his bed," Jessica said.

In late September, Connor was skeleton-thin, and the doctor said he would probably not make it past three or four weeks, and so the family put him into a hospice program, she said.

Even though Jessica had been living with the threat of losing her best friend for four years, nothing could prepare her for his actual death, especially because his condition deteriorated so quickly over three weeks.

"He definitely showed me a lot. He always said, 'Life's too short. You can't take anything for granted.' The people who mean the most to you, you can't take them for granted because you don't know what is going to happen," she said.

For the first three months after his death, Jessica said she really struggled. She still has trouble accepting how this could happen to her 19-year-old friend who had so much to offer, when other people get to live for 100 years.

"I think we have kind of come to terms with it, but we will never understand why," she said.

Jessica is still very close with Connor's family, and she is excited for everyone to see her fulfill their dream of going to "The Price Is Right."

"I just think it's important to keep the memories close and just keep them alive. I want to keep remembering him in a positive way rather than dwelling on it," Jessica said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

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