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Columbia student bravely supports her cousin’s cancer treatment

A girl at Columbia Elementary School has proven deep love for her cousin, who is receiving treatment for cancer, in a way that constantly reminds her of the disease.

Leilani has undergone five chemotherapy sessions at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Leilani’s cousin Annika decided to have her head shaved to prove her support for her cousin.

“Annika is wearing a toboggan to school to keep her head warm,” her sixth-grade homeroom teacher Joan Comer said. “Annika has permission to keep her hat on at school, due to the circumstances.”

“Annika had lovely, long black hair. I know (shaving her head) was a huge deal for her,” Comer said. “Sixth-graders are under a huge amount of peer pressure these days. Annika stepped out of her ‘comfort’ zone to do this for her cousin.”

“I just think this is so amazing,” second-grade teacher Renee Graham said. “Sixth-grade girls are so very conscious of their appearance.”

In addition, Annika spent several days with Leilani at St. Jude. Leilani did not want to be alone during her fifth round of chemotherapy, Annika’s mother Elsa Rivera said.

Columbia teachers are cooperating with Annika for make-up work in her classes. Comer has encouraged Annika’s teachers to give Annika a hug “and tell her how proud you are of her.”

In addition, Comer reminded Annika’s teachers to urge students to be supportive and kind of Annika’s selfless act.

Columbia counselor Cindy Perry has suggested that classroom teachers use approaches from the LiveStrong at School cancer awareness program (livestrong.org).

Founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, LiveStrong at School recommends an open dialogue in the classroom about cancer. Their studies show that the majority of American classrooms have a student whose life has been affected by a person dealing with cancer.

LiveStrong offers material to support these students, who often are motivated then to fight against cancer in their community.

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