School shows support for classmate battling cancer

Story and photos
by Sonja J. Keith

A Perry County student is getting some special support as she battles cancer.

Brittany Alexander, 14, lives in Casa and attended Two Rivers High School (Yell County) before her cancer diagnosis. “I woke up one morning and noticed that it was hard to move my left leg. It was painful at the back of my knee to walk on it or even lift it.”

The discomfort was just thought to be growing pains initially, but it persisted. “After a few weeks, I had developed a noticeable lump because I couldn’t even put weight on it. We saw one doctor that said it was growing pains. We knew that couldn’t have been right after a month had passed and it was still hurting just as much.”

The family sought a second opinion and ended up at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “After two weeks of tests, it was confirmed…I had CANCER. It’s an ugly word but even an uglier thing.”

Brittany was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her leg.

Students and faculty at Two Rivers have rallied around Brittany and her family, offering support and financial assistance. Several fundraising events have been held in her honor. A special “Blessings for Brittany” T-shirt has also been created and sold. The shirt includes the message: “I never knew what bravery was until I saw it in my friend.”

An account has been set up at Arvest for donations to help the family.

One of the most visible shows of support has been the collection of cards with handwritten notes from the entire student body.

The project was coordinated by family and consumer sciences teacher Valerie Growns and the high school’s FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) chapter. Growns said she was contacted by an elementary school teacher after Brittany’s sister mentioned that she wanted to collect cards to cover her wall at home.

Two Rivers senior Bethany Swanson, president of the school’s FCCLA chapter and District 6 treasurer, said she has known others with cancer but “it hits home when it is one of your classmates. It makes it real when it’s someone so young.”

“One day she was here and the next day she wasn’t,” added Growns.

In addition to homemade cards, teachers and students began collecting printed cards to be used for the project. Teachers were contacted and asked to help facilitate the project. At the high school, fourth period classes filled out cards. Her home address has also been circulated for those who would like to mail their cards.

The first set of cards, from fifth- and sixth-graders, was delivered on Valentine’s Day. Another batch was delivered around Brittany’s birthday in March. It is estimated that Brittany will receive about 800 cards through the FCCLA project.

Growns said the response to the project has been overwhelming and she is not aware of any project at the school that has been met with such widespread support and participation. “They all wanted to make a card,” she said. “They are caring and loving and see the need to help somebody.”

“Even the kids who didn’t know her wanted to do it,” added Patricia Fine, math/science teacher.

According to Brittany, this type of cancer is aggressive and it typically occurs during a growth spurt. She has had two surgeries and will undergo 10 months of chemotherapy. “So far, I feel fortunate because I am doing fine in my new normal. I was pulled out of public school because I can’t do chemo and go to school.”

Brittany wears a mask and visitors to her home are limited to help protect her immune system. “In short, my life has changed. I get sick, but I also know how blessed I am. I hurt, but I know how blessed I am. I cry and am scared at times, but I know how blessed I am.

“God is with me everywhere I go and makes me strong and that’s the reason that my spirit can’t and won’t be broken.”