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Halie Hudgins, 17
Cheryl Hudgins, 44
Basketball and boys are what Halie lived for—until a year ago, when she was found to have cancer of the parotid salivary gland. For six months after her surgery and radiation she couldn't smile or taste food. Now she can (catch that big, gorgeous grin), and she's even back playing hoops. At the studio, Halie is quiet at first, allowing shyly that she's planning to major in pre-law. But she bursts into happy tears when she puts on her Beyoncé-worthy, practically backless Versace gown, and she hits her poses like a pro.

"Halie's cancer is rare, and it tends to recur," explains Cheryl, who teaches at the same Pittsburgh area high school that her daughter attends. "So we have to keep monitoring...and praying." Although Cheryl says she isn't that appearance-conscious, she adapts fast, encouraged by our resident experts ("I could get used to this! I should wear heels more often.... I could start wearing lipstick, too"). When Halie sees her mom appear in a silvery low-cut David's Bridal dress ($208), she says, "Wow! You look gorgeous." "Even the girlfriends?" asks Cheryl, gesturing to her cleavage. Halie: "They're big, but yeah! Show the girlfriends."

Backstage Pass: See what went into the gorgeous photos on these pages, plus go behind the scenes of the shoot with Gayle Watch

Special thanks to the amazing people and their teams who contributed to this story
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