10/15/12 — Still Superman

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Still Superman

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 15, 2012 1:46 PM

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Isaiah Henderson, 13, right, sits with his friend Demontae Rose as they chat and eat lunch in the cafeteria of Brogden Middle School. Henderson, an eighth-grader at Brogden, was diagnosed last year with anaplastic malignant spinal cord glioma.

DUDLEY -- Isaiah Henderson is teaching the Brogden Middle School community about compassion and generosity.

The 13-year-old eighth-grader just wants to be a "regular kid," but he is also keenly aware of the importance of living life to the fullest and enjoying each day.

Since the first pain in his lower back shot down his leg to being diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2011, his life has undergone a lot of changes -- frequent trips to doctors and hospitalizations at Duke, a paralysis that reverted but then returned this summer and keeps the youth reliant on a wheelchair, being named this year's children's co-chairman of Relay for Life.

His family's faith has sustained it, says Isaiah's grandfather, Len Henderson. Even when the news was bleak.

"He was being seen at Duke Hospital. Duke had said basically that they had done everything they can. They have released him," he said last week.

The family refuses to focus on the grim prognosis.

"We have begun to explore some possibilities of Johns Hopkins as well as looking at St. Jude Hospital and Cancer Treatment Centers of America," Henderson said. "We have found a doctor at UNC (Dr. Julie Blatt) who actually came from Johns Hopkins, which is one of the premier sites for cancer.

"We're now starting on another chemo drug, which is more for brain cancer and he has spinal cancer, but the potential is there."

The regimen for treatment involves regular trips to Chapel Hill for bloodwork and the drug treatment for the next six months.

Isaiah's official diagnosis was anaplastic malignant spinal cord glioma. It has taken its toll in many ways, not the least of which has been paralysis from the waist down.

"He's adjusted very well to the wheelchair," Henderson said. "We have had some difficulty because he's on steroids and they've caused him to gain a lot of weight. He's outgrown the wheelchair.

"But he's accepted it -- I have not heard him complain about having to be in the wheelchair."

The situation also prompted a change in living arrangements for Isaiah, his three younger siblings and mom, Shenitha Peacock.

"I have brought all the family in to live with me," Henderson said. "I have become primary caregiver for him, and my wife and daughter take care of the other children."

Henderson transports his grandson to and from school each day, except for the occasional absence, usually because of medical appointments.

"He loves going to school. He loves seeing his friends, and he really loves and admires his shadow," he said. "I think it helps keep his spirits up.

"The school, the students, the teachers, the administration have been extremely supportive of him in making the alterations he needs to make to his schedule because he does get tired."

Devoux Olliver, a math teacher, has known Isaiah since the youth was in fifth grade.

"He's a regular active little guy," he said. "He loves sports. He always watches ESPN. He knows just about everything about sports."

"He's very tenacious and an inspiration to teachers as well as his peers," his reading teacher, Adrian Grundy, added. "He doesn't allow his current elements to hinder him from progressing forward."

Isaiah's "shadow," an aide assigned to assist him throughout the school day, is Richard Sugg, a teacher assistant who has spent the past 12 years working at Southern Wayne High School.

The two bonded quickly, he says.

"He's a fine young man," Sugg said. "He likes to do normal stuff. He has a passion for his friends' football team."

Two of those friends, eighth-graders Demontae Rose and Shamar Sykes, are on the Brodgen squad. They eat lunch with Isaiah nearly every day and spend most weekends at his home.

"We play basketball, video games, go to the store and watch movies," Shamar said.

"We all like the same things and got interested in the same things," Isaiah said. He said he just met Shamar last year, but has known Demontae since elementary school, describing him as "cool and funny, sometimes."

The duo can often be found close by, assisting him to and from class.

"You're supposed to help people out," Shamar said.

They, like their buddy, prefer not to dwell on the negatives of the illness that has sidelined their classmate.

"We all take it one day at a time," Demontae said.

For the most part, Isaiah said he feels "pretty good, except for maybe a little tired."

"We just got new medicine, and it makes me sleepy."

The school has also rallied around the young man.

As he navigates the hallway to the cafeteria, students, teachers and parents all appear to know him and greet him warmly.

"This is really a schoolwide citizenship piece," said Sylvester Townsend, Brodgen principal. "He wants to blend in like a regular kid -- no special privileges, nothing special."

That doesn't stop others from caring and lending support.

Jane Sasser, media coordinator at the school, has spearheaded many of those efforts, from selling gel bracelets at the fair to raise money to offset medical expenses, to eliciting donations of gas cards, gift cards, movie passes and organic fruit.

She has also arranged for him and his friends to attend a Carolina basketball game, to meet Coach Roy Williams and to sit on the bench with the team. That will happen the day before his 14th birthday, which is Nov. 12.

The outpouring of kindness from the community has been overwhelming, Henderson said.

"The faith community has really rallied around us," he said. "We're constantly receiving news that he has been placed on prayer lists in the community."

Churches have helped financially, spiritually and emotionally, holding services of healing and fundraisers. The men of First Baptist Church in Goldsboro built ramps at the family's home.

Schools in the southern end, including Brogden Primary, Mount Olive Middle and Southern Wayne, have also collected donations and held fundraisers.

Over the summer, Make-A-Wish sent the family to Disney World.

While Isaiah's physical healing hasn't happened yet, the emotional gifts have been priceless, Henderson said.

"His faith has really strengthened throughout this process," he said. "He's basically turned it over -- whatever is going to be is going to be. He's just accepted it. I admire him for that. A lot of people would go into a pity party.

"He strongly believes that he's going to be healed, and we are all claiming his healing."