Classmates show solidarity to teenagers with cancer

St. Joseph's Catholic School, teenagers with cancer, solidarity

St. Joseph's Catholic School, teenagers with cancer, solidarityGREENVILLE — When Christopher Olin and John Griffin Hawkins were diagnosed with cancer over the summer, their parents were devastated. They worried about the pain and suffering the teens would have to endure and their future health, the emotional stress of the disease on their families, the missed classes, and the costs of treatment.

The boys were worried about going back to school with bald heads once their hair fell out from chemotherapy.

“John Griffin was most worried about his bangs,” said his mother, Dawn Hawkins. “He prayed, God please help me keep my bangs. He won’t go anywhere without his beanie on.”

The teen did somehow retain a forelock that hangs down from the skullcap that normally fits under his football helmet. Chris wore his baseball cap for the first three days of the academic year, according to his mother Sheila Olin, but then decided to tough it out by “going bare.”

The boys, both athletes, are used to toughing things out, but their classmates at St. Joseph’s Catholic School decided to help ease their journeys. Dozens of ninth grade boys at the school shaved their heads as a show of solidarity with Chris and John.

“John Hawkins and I have been best friends since sixth grade,” said Will McLellan, 14. “And I went to see him in the hospital every day. I could see he was scared, so we decided to shave our heads to help him, to show that his friends were behind him.”

Tucker Genal, also 14, said that classmate Stanley Bikulege’s father arranged for a session of haircuts at a local barbershop and boys flooded into the place to show their support for their friends. Parents and the school cooperated in the effort with their own support of the classmates’ gesture, Tucker said.

“It’s a small school and everybody is a friend,” Stanley said.

The students at St. Joseph’s also prayed publicly for the boys.

Mrs. Olin said her son is handling his bone cancer and the operations and therapy well, and that she and her husband Bob are trying not to spoil him in his time of trial.

“It’s hard not to, because he’s not a complainer,” she said.

That same characteristic also led faculty member Kevin Stanton, who teaches both boys, to shave his head as a visible sign of support.

“They bear their crosses silently, everyday, gutting it out. It’s so inspiring and has got to have a positive influence on their classmates. They do a lot for us by just showing up; we all draw strength from these boys, and we pray for them when they are not here,” Stanton said.

When they are not in school, they are usually in a hospital being treated for their disease. Part of the suffering that the boys’ families go through is the added expense of traveling for treatments and surgeries and medical costs that insurance doesn’t cover.

To help relieve some of those expenses, friends of both cancer victims have arranged fundraisers at local businesses, and both have sites where donations may be made: for John Griffin Hawkins, or people can e-mail to buy a Caring For Christopher bracelet.

John is fighting Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood disease of the immune system.

The families are members of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville. According to the two mothers, the medical prognosis for both boys is good.