'Sisterhood of Traveling Prom Dress' honors friend lost to cancer

A group of young women have started a real-life version of "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." However, it's a prom dress that travels and the story behind it is both magical and heartbreaking. 

In fall of 2014, Catherine Malatesta, of Arlington, Massachusetts, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer called epithelioid sarcoma. She started chemotherapy the day after Christmas, then radiation and then simultaneous courses of both treatments. She also participated in a clinical trial.

However, the cancer spread to her lungs as well as spine and on August 2, 2015, about two months after her high school prom, Catherine lost her battle with cancer. She was just 16-years-old. 

Jennifer Goodwin, Catherine's mother, told FOX 5's Katie Muse that before her daughter passed away, Catherine shared a picture on Facebook the day after prom. In the photo she was wearing a beautiful, deep blue, shimmery gown.

Jillian Danton, Catherine's longtime friend since third grade, was one of many to comment on the photo, saying she was "obsessed" with the dress. 

Last October, Goodwin was looking at Catherine's dress and thought about Jillian's comment. That's when Goodwin came up with a touching idea and decided to reach out to Jillian. 

"I just thought it would be lovely if Jill wanted to wear Catherine's dress to her junior prom so I texted her mentioning that it was available for her to wear if she was ever interested, with absolutely no strings attached," Goodwin told us. 

Two months later, during Christmas break, Goodwin invited some of Catherine's friends from camp to visit and try on some of her daughter's clothes. She said she loves when Catherine's friends pick out items from her large wardrobe.

As they were gathered in Catherine's room, one of the girls saw the blue prom dress and asked to try it on. 

"And then another said how fabulous it would be if they all wore Catherine's dress to their prom," Goodwin said. 

That was the day Emma Schambers and Carly Blau decided they too would wear the dress. 

"A week or so later Catherine's dear friend from Arlington, Lauren, contacted me," Goodwin said.

Lauren Hourican, one of Catherine's best friends from high school, asked if she could wear the dress to the Arlington High School senior prom. Goodwin said she was thrilled, but nervous that timing might be an issue. However, since the girls all go to different schools or are in different grades, none of the proms overlapped. 

"That's pretty extraordinary in this 7-week prom season," Goodwin said. 

Something else seemed to work out perfectly too...

"The gown fits each to a tee, with only slight hemming for two of the girls," Goodwin said. 

This spring, Jillian, Emma, Carly and Lauren each wore the dress and Goodwin said she was able to see all of them on their prom nights, "seeing love personified." 

"Each girl dons this gown and brings Catherine's memory alive. Each girl absolutely glows. It is as if Catherine's light is shining out from their hearts," she said. 

Goodwin said the tribute to her daughter was an incredible gesture of love, friendship, devotion and strength. 

"As a mother who has lost her beloved child, her only daughter, her firstborn, it is healing to see Catherine's friends honor their friend's memory this way.  Although I will never move on from the death of Catherine, it is tributes like this that help me to move forward."

Goodwin said moments like this are bittersweet, but bring her family joy. 

"This sisterhood is something these girls will never forget and they will forever be linked to Catherine and each other through their friendship and this dress.  Keeping a child's memory alive is critical to the healing of grieving parents."

Goodwin said Catherine would have been so proud of her friends. 

"She was a key player in this sisterhood. She was always the biggest cheerleader of her friends. The wearing of her gown to honor her memory would bring her great joy and comfort."

It's a sisterhood that will keep living on. Goodwin told FOX 5 two of her daughter's camp friends have already asked to wear the dress next year, a family friend is interested in wearing it to her senior prom and one of Catherine's cousins asked if she could wear the dress to her prom in four years. 

Catherine's parents have set up the Catherine J. Malatesta Scholarship to help two students pursue their college dreams. If you would like to make a donation in their daughter's memory, click here

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