KELLER (CBSDFW.COM) – It is, at best, an awful coincidence. Three kids with cancer — all at the same Keller school. But, staffers at Hidden Lakes elementary see the situation as an opportunity to teach compassion, up close, and personal.
“It would be so easy as a school, for her to be forgotten,” says Cheryl McMahan, of her daughter Sydney. The now 9-year-old was diagnosed with a tumor on her brain stem last year. “Sidney missed the second part of second grade — all of it. It would have been so easy for her to be forgotten. And Hidden Lakes wouldn’t allow that.”
McMahan says her daughter’s hospital room was always plastered with notes and cards. “When she couldn’t really get around and move and walk and talk after the surgery, those words of encouragement meant the world. This has been her second family, her second home and I don’t know where we’d be without them.”
Sydney even got her own page in the school yearbook. “I thought it was really cool that they did that for me,” she said today in a soft, sweet voice… more excited about having her Mom visit school than she was about giving an interview. By the time the other girls were diagnosed, the school community knew just what to do. First grader Emma Nees is battling leukemia. So, when she can’t come to class, a stuffed monkey that the kids call ‘Fizzle’ (Emma’s school nickname) saves her seat. Her teachers sport special pink t-shirts bearing her name.
No one is forgetting her.
“The kids have been phenomenal,” says Sarah Kight. Her fourth grade daughter, Grace, was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma in January. Ewing’s Sarcoma is a type of bone cancer that in Grace’s case, attacked her right lung. She’s already had nine weeks of chemotherapy in preparation for surgery, then will likely have several months more.
“You don’t know what your child is capable of, until you’re faced with this for sure,” says Kight. She says there has been nothing that Hidden Lakes principal Melanie Graham and her counselors, teachers and staff haven’t done to support them. And the classmates have been equally amazing. “Every time she gets a note from a friend, I think it makes her think ‘hey! they haven’t forgotten me’, and that’s a great thing.”
Today, an child life specialist from Cook Children’s in Fort Worth held a special assembly to answer classmate’s questions about Ewing’s Sarcoma. And while ‘cancer’ is still an uncommon conversation for most fourth graders, her classmates get top marks for compassion. One friend shaved his head in solidarity — another has decided to grow his hair long.
“There is absolutely no way we could get through this without 100s of people praying for us,” says Kight. “And that has just been a tremendous thing and so many people at this school are doing that, and that just means everything to us.”
“When you get a diagnosis that literally sucks the air out of you, you just want encouragement that there will be a tomorrow,” says McMahan. Along with a school full of friends to share them.
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