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Though he lost his battle with cancer, those who knew 17-year-old Aaron E. Graves say he won their hearts and admiration.

Aaron died Wednesday (Dec. 22, 1999) in his North Buffalo home, more than 2 1/2 years after he was diagnosed with alveolar soft part sarcoma -- an extremely rare cancer. Each year, only 11 new cases of the disease are reported.

A senior at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, he was more interested in whether he would be able to play basketball than in the experimental treatments he underwent, including six months of therapy at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

"He is our hero. His strength and courage enabled my husband and I and Aaron's brother Johnny to get through this together," said Aaron's mother, Michele A. Graves. "It seemed like the whole world was his friend. He never complained about his pain, and he was always happy."

Among those who came to know Aaron in the last couple of years were members of the Buffalo Police Department, where his mother works as a report technician.

"He's a courageous young man who never complained and was always polite and respectful, which is a credit to his parents," said Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina.

Report Technician Judy Loncar recalled Aaron's zest for life. "He was one of a kind. He had a drive for life," she said.

In his freshman and sophomore years at the collegiate institute, Aaron played as a guard on the school's junior varsity basketball squad.

After having a tumor removed from his left leg in July 1997, he vowed to return to the team's lineup and made good on that promise, despite physically draining therapy.

From age 4, he had played soccer with the Delaware Soccer League, and he served as captain of the freshman soccer team at St. Joe's.

Off the courts and playing fields, he succeeded in academics. At the end of the first marking quarter of the current school year, Aaron made the honor roll.

A graduate of Mount St. Joseph Elementary School, Aaron enjoyed art and music. For 10 years he attended the Western New York Academy of Dance and practiced tap dance. He was an avid sports fan and collector of Yankees baseball memorabilia.

Aaron had worked as a Buffalo News carrier and was a camp counselor at the Parkside Summer Arts Program. He volunteered for many community service projects for the Buffalo Police Department, the Parkside Community Association and the North Buffalo Kiwanis.

The Make-a-Wish Foundation granted him his wish to go to the 1999 Final Four basketball tournament in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Besides his mother, he is survived by his father, Eugene, and a brother, Johnathan.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Monday in St. Joseph's University Catholic Church, 3269 Main St., Buffalo. Burial will be in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Town of Tonawanda.

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