The third-graders at Bergen Valley Elementary School have learned firsthand the meaning of compassion.
One of their fellow students, 9-year-old Kaymen Story, was diagnosed in September with a bone cancer called osteosarcoma. Since then, Kaymen has been through chemotherapy and surgery to remove the malignant bone tumor on her left radius near her wrist.
She lost her hair in mid-September, so the children had their second hat day on Friday to support their classmate. All the students at Bergen Valley, plus kids at sister school Bergen Meadow, also participated in hat day.
Kaymen’s classmates in Kim Mott’s class say they wear hats to make Kaymen, who wears a hat, feel included, accepted and part of the class. On Friday, the children wore Santa hats and baseball caps, and one wore a blue and gold mohawk wig to support their friend.
In addition to wearing the hats, the students were asked to bring a bit of money to be put toward Kaymen’s medical bills and to be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a future trip.
A little money turned into $3,230.56, and Kaymen’s parents, Jennifer Hayes and Todd Story, are grateful for the community support.
“When (Bergen Valley principal) Beth (Elmgreen) told me the total raised, my mouth just dropped and tears came to my eyes,” Hayes said. “We are so blessed and fortunate to live in a community with such generous hearts, and we will never be able to thank everyone enough for their love, support and prayers for Kaymen during this challenging time.”
Kaymen liked the support from her classmates.
“It makes me feel good,” she said with a smile. She says it’s been hard to be away from school and her friends so much this year.
Elmgreen, wearing a red hat, said hat day was a great way to honor Kaymen.
“The kids want to reach out to her,” she said. “It’s a big deal for them to be able to wear hats in school. There’s a lot of participation.”
Under normal circumstances, students are not allowed to wear hats to school.
“The children have been great, very loving,” Elmgreen said.
A changed third-grade year
According to Hayes, Kaymen complained on Labor Day weekend that her wrist was sore. Her parents took her to a doctor, and the cancerous tumor was found. She immediately started chemotherapy to help kill the cancer cells before last week’s surgery to remove the tumor.
She has more chemotherapy ahead of her, and the procedure makes her ill. Generally, she spends four weeks in the hospital out of every five. She comes to school when she can, though she works on her studies through Jeffco Public Schools’ homebound program.
In addition to school, Kaymen is missing Irish step-dancing classes, Girl Scout activities and the Evergreen Chorale Prelude choir.
“Our first questions were, ‘What did we do? Why did this happen?’ ” Hayes said. “It’s extremely rare, especially for children her age. There isn’t one specific cause.”
Kaymen has a brother, Chase, 7, at Bergen Meadow and a half sister, Ella, 3.
An outpouring of peer support
Fellow third-graders have learned a lot about the bone cancer, thanks to a guest speaker from Children’s Hospital who came to the school to explain the disease and the treatment. They have a better idea of Kaymen’s challenges as she fights the cancer.
One of Kaymen’s classmates, Brock Zanetell, shaved his head as a sign of support.
Now, with his hair a half-inch long, Brock said: “I hope to make her feel better and not so left out. … My dad had to shave my head with shaving cream and a shaver.”
Ava Aldrich, 9, says she has an idea of what Kaymen is going through because Ava had heart surgery when she was 3 days old.
“I tell her how I feel,” Ava said. “It helps her feel better since I’ve been through it, too.”
Ava says the hats help Kaymen feel included.
“I’m kind of sad that one of my best friends has cancer,” Ava said. “I hope she feels better and can stay out of the hospital.”
Third-grader Russell Taber’s grandmother made Kaymen a quilt with hearts on it that everyone in the class signed. Even Kaymen signed the quilt so she wouldn’t feel left out, Russell said. She can put it around her to feel the support of her classmates.
The future for Kaymen
Kaymen is looking forward to returning to school on a regular basis and getting back to her life before cancer.
She’s also looking forward to a trip from the Make-A-Wish Foundation to a Disney resort in Hawaii after she’s done with her treatment. Kaymen loves Disneyland and has been there nine times.
“It will be so much fun,” she said.