KINGSPORT — Every day in the United States, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer. These are children of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Cancer does not discriminate and in an instant it can turn your world upside down.
Which is why one local program that works to bring a sense of normalcy to a child’s life is so important to the families in our region fighting these deadly diseases.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time when people and businesses all across the country “Go Gold” to remember the kids and families fighting cancer. During an event on Thursday, Kingsport Mayor John Clark proclaimed Sept. 27 as Childhood Cancer Awareness Day in the city.
In the spotlight at Thursday’s event was the Children Exceeding Expectations School — a free school exclusively for kids with cancer and immune deficiency disorders.
“For seven years, we’ve had the very best, unpaid part-time volunteer job in the whole, entire world,” said Jane Henry, co-director of the CEE. “If you look around this room, you’ll see why.”
ORIGINS OF THE SCHOOL
The school began as the vision of Hayley Dietrich, who became aware of a young boy in our region fighting cancer. He was limited in what he could do and where he could go. Dietrich couldn’t get the young boy out of her mind.
Thus, the school was started as a program of the Junior League of Kingsport. Classes are held two days a week during the school year at Bristol Motor Speedway, and once a year the school takes all of the kids and their families on a special trip to Disney World.
“Our main goal is to provide a sense of normalcy in a child’s world when nothing else is normal,” Henry said. “We work with kids through the magic of play, of laughter and of love.”
WHAT KIDS THINK
When CEE began in the fall of 2011, the very first student to walk through the doors was Kellan Good. Dietrich shared Kellan’s story on Thursday, as told by her mother. At the age of four, Kellan was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
She went through four rounds of chemo, multiple blood transfusions, 31 rounds of radiation and eventually kicked cancer’s butt, Dietrich said.
Kellan, now 11, said she has only good memories of that time and her days in CEE.
“I remember it was a lot of fun and we were treated like any other kid. I just didn’t go to the same school,” Kellan said. “I was just fun to get out and act like a normal kid in school.”
A number of other kids, currently enrolled in the school or who previously attended, were in the audience during Thursday’s event. One teenager — 16-year-old Rafe Boggs from near Lebanon, Va. — spent two years at the school as he waged a battle against leukemia.
“It was nice to have a place to play and have fun with people you could relate to,” Boggs said.
Trace Buller, age 6, attended class at CEE for the first time this week. He was diagnosed in August with a tumor behind his eye.
“He loved it and it makes him feel somewhat normal,” said his mother, Robin.
HOW TO HELP
According to the American Childhood Cancer Association, an estimated 15,780 children between the ages of birth and 19 years are diagnosed with cancer in the United States. Approximately 1 in 285 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer before their 20th birthday.
If you’d like to learn more about the school or make a donation, email [email protected] or call (423) 612-8087 or (423) 956-9562.