05/10/11 — Brogden student back to school after brave battle with cancer

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Brogden student back to school after brave battle with cancer

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 10, 2011 1:46 PM

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Isaiah Henderson, center, a sixth-grader at Brogden Middle School, plays drums before an assembly partially in his honor on Monday, flanked by Quamesha Graham, left, and Demontae Rose.

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Brogden Middle School Band leader Jerome Powers conducts the band during a pep rally at the school. The school community and TIC, an industrial company building the Progress Energy plant, raised more than $20,000 for Relay for Life, presenting the Henderson family with a check for $6,200 to defray medical bills.

DUDLEY -- The past few months have been tough going for Shenitha Peacock.

It all started when her eldest, Isaiah, 12, began having pain in his lower back that gradually turned into shooting pains down his legs.

"Every week it went a step further," said the Dudley mother of three. "It was over a period of time, so we kept going to the doctors. Three days a week we were going to the doctors."

Fortunately, her father, Len Henderson, a school board member, helped a lot with caring for her children, which include two younger daughters, Aniya, 11, and Aliyah, 9.

Things became even more alarming when Isaiah lost feeling in his legs. For about a month, he was unable to walk.

An MRI and subsequent treatments finally turned up a diagnosis -- anaplastic glioma, a form of cancer. Surgery was performed at Duke in February to remove the spinal cord tumor.

"He will have to undergo 15 months of chemotherapy," explained Jane Sasser, media coordinator at Brogden Middle School, where Isaiah is a sixth-grader. This is Mrs. Sasser's second year at the school and first as team leader for the Relay for Life team.

She has spent recent weeks raising money for this year's Relay for Life, as well as in support of the Henderson family.

Isaiah returned to classes on Friday, after completing six weeks of chemo and radiation treatment, she said.

"He's on a six-week break," his mother said. "He will go back and get an MRI and then we'll find out whether he has to go back on chemo."

Throughout, her son has shown remarkable courage, Ms. Peacock said.

"His spirits have always been high," she said. "He never got down, he never claimed having cancer."

"It has really been overwhelming," admitted the young man's grandfather, crediting Mrs. Sasser with rallying behind the family during their time of need.

"It has been difficult, but Isaiah has been a trooper," Henderson said. "I have never heard him complain. I have never heard him cry."

On Monday, Isaiah was special guest of honor at an assembly celebrating his progress and encouraging students in anticipation of the upcoming end-of-grade tests.

"This is nice," he said upon entering the school library in his wheelchair beforehand.

He admitted the early days of his diagnosis had been "kinda scary," but that it was "fun" to return to school.

"I get to be back with my friends," he said.

His favorite subject is science, he said, but his future aspirations include being a pro baseball or basketball player.

Visiting with family and church members who turned out for the assembly was shortlived as Isaiah was whisked away to the gym, to play drums with the sixth-grade band.

"He's playing for his own party," Mrs. Sasser said with a smile.

There were still elements of surprise, as the bleachers filled with students and staff all wearing gold T-shirts with blue lettering, representing the school colors. The front of the shirts bore the word, "Honor" while "Team Henderson" adorned the back.

The T-shirts had been part of a fundraiser for the family, but TIC, the industrial company currently building the Progress Energy plant, purchased and donated 1,300 shirts for every student and staff member at the school.

The generosity didn't stop there. The company also donated $5,000 to the school's Relay for Life effort and presented a check for $6,200 to the Henderson family to assist with medical bills. All told, the company helped generate $20,700 for the fundraisers.

"This is something we do wherever we go," said Nate Robinson, general contractor with TIC. "It's just kind of our way of giving back. ...

"We're really excited to be here to represent the company and on behalf of our client, Progress Energy, and do what we're doing today."

Ms. Peacock, visibly shaken by the check presentation, choked up as she thanked TIC.

"You just can't imagine how much you have just blessed me right now," she said.

Isaiah, too, thanked the school and his classmates and community "for all the love and support you have shown me."

And his grandfather took it a step higher.

"First, I would like to give honor to God for all that He has done," he said. "For we know that had it not been for Him, this day would not have happened.

"There's an old adage that says it takes a village to raise a child. This is exemplified here today, for had it not been for the prayers of the neighbors and our church family, Isaiah would not be here today."

Henderson recalled barely a week before, as his grandson was finishing up his last radiation and chemo treatments, hearing Isaiah utter the words, "'I'm going back to school.'"

Just as he was ready to return, the school has been anxiously and optimistically awaiting his return, principal Karen Wellington said.

"We want Isaiah and his family to know that we are all together and we are on a team together, 'Kicking Cancer off the Field,'" she said, gesturing to a banner bearing that message that had been carried in by the school's cheerleaders.

"We're here united with you, we share with you, working together, praying together, believing together that everything is going to be all right."

Michelle Hamm, assistant principal, presented Isaiah with a gift bag featuring tickets to a Mudcats baseball game for his family. She noted that despite the recent circumstances faced by the family, it was now a time to celebrate.

She also noted that the occasion had been an opportunity for the school to rise and be involved in a "matter of the heart."

"This is a life experience that not everybody gets the opportunity to experience," she told the assembly. "We have a student who's in need of our support in a lot of different ways, just knowing that we were here when he couldn't be with us, he's made a lot of difference."