A TEACHER WRITES: As I laced my running shoes for the American Cancer Society’s 27th Annual GWB 5K Challenge this morning, I kept a little girl in mind who has affected my life, and those of my students, in ways none of us could have never imagined. I found Julia Eveland online more than three years ago: Her bright blue eyes twinkled from an old friend’s Facebook page. She was 5 at the time but not your typical kindergartner. Julia was battling Wilm’s tumor, a childhood kidney cancer, yet she was concerned about absent classmates who had the sniffles. I can be a bit of a skeptic, but I found myself going back to that Facebook page time and again. I’d become addicted to reading posts about the little girl from Royersford, PA — right up until she died last September, two months shy of her 9th birthday. One post talked about Julia donating all her 7th birthday gifts to the Children’s Hospital of Phildelphia oncology ward because she thought they might bring joy to other sick kids. Another described a fundraiser she hosted to raise cancer awareness.
The last few were difficult to read. They spoke of how, after three remissions, there were no more treatment options. Of how pain medication lulled Julia into an almost constant sleep, stealing moments that her family had hoped to savor. And how, unable to lift a pencil, she dictated to her mother a list of 10 guidelines to live a happy life a few days before her death.I have a daughter the same age, so you can imagine what those posts did to me.Then, one unseasonably chilly April afternoon, my 4th-graders “met” Julia. All of them had heard about cancer. It only happened to old people, they told me during health class. So I navigated to www.juliasgracefoundation.com, a Web page created by Julia’s parents, and those blue eyes filled the SMART board. Together, we read about her life, her kind nature and her death. In the Dr. Frank Napier Academy of Technology, smack dab in the middle of one of Paterson’s most dangerous neighborhoods, the tough exterior that many inner city kids develop quickly dissolved. What can we do to help, they wanted to know. For the rest of the day, my kids brainstormed ideas. They worked together with kindness and consdieration — which for some is quite difficult. Since then, Julia has been a rainbow stretching across urban blight, exposing my students’ softer side.
Some have worn the signature zebra stripe and hot pink pins of Julia’s foundation. Others painted butterflies on a bench in her memory. Later this month it will travel to a new home for others to enjoy — the main lobby of Gilda’s Club, a cancer support center in Hackensack. In my pocket this morning was a plastic sandwich bag containing $11.30 in singles and coins scraped together by students to support the American Cancer Society in her memory. As for me, I added one more rule to Julia’s list and hung it outside the classroom: Be kind to someone. I’m pretty sure she’d be okay with that.
Content gathered & updated by the Bergen Review Media team.