Danielle Schafer had some good news to break to the crowd assembled in the Fox Ridge Middle School gymnasium on April 30.
Schafer, a seventh-grade teacher at the school, held a microphone and paced across the hardwood floor as she addressed the audience that had gathered in the bleachers for the third assembly of the day at Fox Ridge. Schafer wanted to deliver an impressive set of figures before she moved on to what she eloquently summed up as "that crazy hair business." In more specific terms, stylists from Floyd's Barbershop were on hand to shave her head for a very important cause.
"At this point, we've raised over $15,200 for Tayler and her family," Schafer said, shooting a meaningful glance to Fox Ridge seventh-grader Tayler Ellison and her parents, who were standing nearby. "Your support means the world to the Fox Ridge community and the Ellison family."
Those funds will go toward helping the Ellisons face one of the biggest challenges of their lives. Tayler Ellison, 13, is currently undergoing treatment for bone cancer. It's a painful process that's already posed plenty of challenges – for example, as part of an intense, 13-hour round of surgery in January, doctors replaced part of Tayler's jawbone with bone from her tibia. Tayler and her family are set on overcoming the odds and getting through the treatment; they're hoping that she'll be through with chemotherapy by the end of the year.
Taylor's current fight isn't her first experience with the disease – she was diagnosed with brain cancer twice when she was only four years old, and she beat it both times. However, doctors suggested that those intense treatments eight years ago may well have led to a recurrence of the disease.
The Ellisons aren't facing the fight alone. The entire Fox Ridge Middle School community has shown their commitment to helping the family through the tough weeks and months that lie ahead, and the series of assemblies on April 30 were a part of that support. Schafer, who squirmed a bit in her chair as stylists shore off more than a foot of thick, blonde hair that could be donated to make wigs for cancer treatments, was only one of dozens of teachers and staff members who didn't hesitate in showing their support.
Teachers, counselors, deans and administrators wore brightly colored wigs for the entire week to raise awareness. Fox Ridge community members joined in fundraising pushes to help the family face the mounting costs of Tayler's treatment. School representatives were hard at work organizing 5Ks, community gatherings and special events throughout the year to keep the momentum going.
"Fox Ridge isn't done supporting Tayler and her family," Schafer said after she'd had most of her hair shorn. "We'll have more events throughout the year."
The effect was overwhelming for the entire Ellison family. Tayler watched the assembly with her friends and parents, while her father, Shane Ellison, addressed the crowd and fielded some profoundly moving questions from students, most of which had to do with finding even more ways to support the family and help Tayler "be a kid again."
"Please know that we're extremely appreciative," Shane Ellison said. "Continue to think about her."
The Fox Ridge community had an important partner in showing its support. Shane Ellison, an Aurora Police officer, was joined by his colleagues from the force, many of whom had their own stories to tell about battling the disease. Tom Faustin, an officer who's waged a pitched battle against cancer, was on hand at the assembly to offer his insights and support.
"Anything I can do, I want to do," Faustin said. "I'm fighting this battle myself, and I'm looking for a way to give back."
Faustin joined Officer Jim Seneca, founder of the nonprofit Cops Fighting Cancer, to help in the fundraising efforts and provide an even more intangible source of support. Seneca has battled cancer, too, and he said the importance of friends, family and community in overcoming the disease is inestimably valuable.
"It's pretty overwhelming, and having this kind of support offers inspiration and hope," Seneca said. "It's like a lifeline. That's what it's all about."
Tayler took the outpouring of love and support in stride, preferring to let her father, her teachers and her friends do most of the talking. Connor Quinn, 13, Tayler's friend since sixth grade, said her silence covered an impressive inner strength and conviction, a resolve that couldn't be beat by any disease.
"She always trucks through the challenges," said Quinn, who shaved his own head to show support. "She still gives me the same kind of attitude and strength. She's amazing."
Visit copsfightingcancer.org to learn more about Tayler and find ways to support the Ellisons.