School, community team up for 2nd-grade cancer survivor

Jillian McGehee/Contributing Writer Published April 16, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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Second-grader Colleen Herron is surrounded by her best friends, Deandra Shehane and Spencer Seel. The students, along with others at Central Primary School and in the Arkadelphia community, are rallying together to support Colleen on her cancer journey and raise funds for the upcoming Relay for Life on Friday.

ARKADELPHIA — In her 28 years of teaching, Debbie Robertson of Arkadelphia has experienced a wide range of dynamics and joy from her students. Yet she’d never been quite as touched by a student as she has by Colleen Herron, a cancer survivor and Central Primary School second-grader.

Robertson recently organized the #teamcolleen fundraiser in conjunction with the local Relay for Life initiative of the American Cancer Society.

“When I met Colleen the first day she entered my classroom, she also entered my heart,” Robertson said. “I went home and couldn’t stop thinking about her. She apologized to me for having to push her wheelchair, apologized to me for having to rearrange my room, and she apologized to me for just about everything. She clearly felt like a burden to others. I could not let her feel that way. I decided that we all needed to get on her team and show her how much she means to us at Central Primary.”

In 2015, Colleen was diagnosed with a rare cancer, adamantinoma, in her left tibia, said her mother, Kelly Haddox. Surgery removed the tumor, and Colleen healed and began walking again. Months later, Colleen went back to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for a routine scan, and her family was told her cancer had returned.

Colleen’s leg is healing and growing now after undergoing special surgeries to remove the entire tibia and replace her bone with a donor femur and inject it with her own DNA from her pelvic bone.

Through everything, “she’s still smiling,” Colleen’s mother said. “Throughout the whole ordeal, she has remained extremely resilient and very optimistic. She’s our family’s hero. She inspires us all. Colleen still has more healing to do, but her future looks hopeful.”

Robertson shared her fundraising idea with other school administrators, as well as local Relay for Life coordinators Ryan and Kimberly Ellison. The kickoff was held March 2, and the Ellisons “went above and beyond to highlight our girl,” Robertson noted.

“The students were cheering loudly and, for the first time, understood why we do Relay for Life. Colleen has since made a whole school of friends and sees every day that she is not a burden, but a blessing, to all of us at Central Primary.”

Despite missing so much school because of undergoing surgeries, Colleen has almost caught up to where she needs to be, Robertson said.

“She wants to do good and gives it her all every time we work with her,” the teacher said. “On a personal level, I must say that Colleen has such a big heart for others and animals.”

On the day of this interview, Robertson said Colleen was late to school because she had to stop and help a dog on the side of the road.

“She said, ‘We saw an older dog walking on the side of the road. He looked all dirty and hungry. He even looked blind in one eye. I felt sorry for him and couldn’t just leave him there. I made Momma stop and pick him up. She is giving him a bath and feeding him while I’m at school. I’ll check on him when I get home,’” Robertson said.

In a video holding large flash cards to describe her journey, Colleen said she hopes to be walking fully by this summer. She said she walked briefly in February. She won’t be able to jump again or play sports. She said that without her dogs, family, friends and amazing teacher, Mrs. Robertson, her journey would be a lot more difficult.

It’s been an amazing feat to see the school and community join together for a cause, Robertson said.

“Business and people in our community donated money to help us buy shirts that say #teamcolleen. Every child in my classroom has one now, and I saw a lady at Walmart yesterday, and she had one of the shirts on. She was explaining it to another lady. I just smiled when I passed by.”

Colleen has touched more people than she’ll ever know, Robertson said.

“A burden? No way,” Robertson said. “She’s such a huge blessing instead.”

Robertson and other Colleen supporters will be conducting their final fundraiser this week, Monday through Friday. Colleen and her friends will be selling #teamcolleen buttons at school for $1, Robertson said.

Robertson’s whole class will walk during the Relay for Life, scheduled for Friday at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.

“We will walk in her honor while pushing [Colleen] in her wheelchair,” Robertson said.

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