Hope for the Holidays: Fourth graders encourage 3-year-old cancer patient

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(ROCKWALL, TX — Nov. 25, 2019) Amy Parks-Heath Elementary School teacher Sara Cranford and her fourth grade class are embracing the spirit of kindness this holiday season. Cranford’s students are pen pals with 3-year-old Jack Callahan as he battles for his life in the hospital every day.

On Feb. 2, 2019, after Jack refused to walk because the pain in his legs was so acute, his parents, Mike and Emily, took him to the University of Virginia Hospital where an MRI revealed a tumor in his pelvis. It was malignant and had metastasized to his lungs. Jack was officially diagnosed with a rare form of extragonadal germ cell cancer, and he began chemotherapy the next day.

Ten years ago, Cranford had crossed paths with Jack’s mom Emily, when Cranford had became a member of the Meredith College softball team – a team that Emily’s dad, Doctor Jack Huber (affectionately known as Doc) founded during the college’s early years. Doc – the head of the Meredith Psychology department – quickly became a mentor to Cranford as she went on to pursue her degree in psychology. An irreplaceable friendship began between the two families, as they shared many ties, from beach homes, to softball travels, and deep roots in family time in the small beach town of Emerald Isle.

In 2017, Cranford’s mother was diagnosed with carcinosarcoma stage 3 ovarian cancer, a diagnosis that had no known cure. The Huber family was right by their side as they began their journey of various doctor’s appointments, chemo treatments, and hospitalizations in hopes of extending their time left together.

Almost two years later, little Jack began his fight against cancer in a hospital room in Virginia, just as Cranford’s mother lost her battle while at UNC Women’s Center. Despite the fact that the Huber family had their own long, emotional journey ahead of them, Cranford said they still made it a priority to wrap her family in love and support, even from miles away in their own hospital room.

“The love the Huber family showed my family during our toughest days, inspired me to share little Jack’s story with my fourth grade class at Amy Parks, in hopes that they might help me return the favor of wrapping Jack’s family in love,” Cranford said. “As we head into a season that is all about giving, and loving, I was hoping that Jack’s story would help my students understand that their acts of kindness are what truly make the season bright, and that the gifts of love and kind words are greater than anything money can buy. I hoped that together we could bring joy to a family that I love dearly, and that my students would be able to see what a lasting impact their actions have on others. Little did I know that my students and their families would rally to support Jack beyond anything I could have imagined.”

Cranford’s students immediately fell in love with Jack when they heard his story, and began to affectionately refer to him as “Little Jack” as if he was another member of the class. They made cards, gathered some of their favorite Texas sport-themed items – knowing that Jack was a huge fan of sports, especially mascots, his favorite being Gritty. They made a video of inspirational messages for Jack to watch in the hospital, and they wrote inspirational letters, telling Jack how he inspired them to “show grit”, “never give up” and “keep on smiling” every day.

“Little Jack became our very own class mascot, representing one of the character words we’ve been focusing on this year: grit!” Cranford said.

After sending videos to Jack, the students learned he was really interested in different states, too. So on the class’s recent field trip to Austin, the students took pictures around the state capitol to send to Jack. State Representative Justin Holland also gave the class the Texas flag that flew over the capitol on Jack’s birthday, Oct. 30, to include in the package they would be sending him.

“The love these fourth graders showed for a boy they had never even met has inspired them to continue spreading kindness throughout the holiday season by participating in the 25 days of Christmas Kindness Challenge, and focusing our writing lessons on spreading kindness to people in our lives. We also intend to continue our pen pal friendship with Jack throughout the school year, sharing our adventures and our learning with him,” Cranbury said.

Jack just received his third stem cell transplant at CHOP (Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia) and his family is anxiously waiting and hoping for the best possible outcome. He will begin receiving radiation after the first of the year. To follow along with little Jack’s story, you can visit: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jackcallahan/journal.

To read the original story that Sara shared with her 4th graders & their families, click here: https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/27983885/gritty-makes-birthday-wish-come-true-superfan-battling-cancer.

Story by Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News. Courtesy photos.

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