'She gave me a purpose': Merced mother to set up scholarship in honor of daughter who died from brain cancer

"She fulfilled my life in every way possible. She gave me a purpose," said Latisha Tapetillo.
MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Nothing could've ever prepared Latisha Tapetillo of Merced for the pain of losing a child.

"She fulfilled my life in every way possible. She gave me a purpose," said Tapetillo.

On Valentine's Day, she lost her daughter and best friend, 20-year-old Larayna, to brain cancer.

"She left me on Valentine's Day, which is fitting because she took my heart with her," Tapetillo said.

Larayna fought a long and fierce battle. She was diagnosed at the age of 18.

Tapetillo said her daughter had the spirit of a fighter and faced the disease head-on with a smile.

"Even through all of the cancer, being poked all of the time. She would turn to the nurses and say, you have got this, you can do this," she said.

For a time, Larayna got better. She went into remission, but Tapetillo said it didn't last long.

The cancer came back even stronger. This time it spread to other parts of her brain, and the side effects were brutal.

"She not only had brain cancer, but she experienced what it was like to have epilepsy, a stroke, be paralyzed, dementia," said Tapetillo.

Students at Larayna's alma mater, Yosemite High School, rallied together and raised enough money to grant Laryana her wish.

RELATED: Merced students raise funds to send teen battling brain cancer to Disneyland

Tapetillo said she wanted to go to Disneyland, but the pandemic didn't allow for that to happen.

"We never go to go because of COVID," she said.

Tapetillo made every moment with her daughter count.

They would often leave the Central Valley for day trips at the beach. Monterey was Larayna's happy place.

"She would get down on the sand and find these microscopic seashells, and I couldn't see them unless I put them right up to my eye," she said.

Tapetillo is now choosing to give back as she struggles with her grief.

She is starting a scholarship in her daughter's name that will help high school seniors who have family members fighting cancer. Tapetillo has set up a GoFundMe to help with funeral expenses and is also accepting donations for the scholarship.
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