September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and the Comal Independent School District is carrying on a tradition of honoring students and families who have fought and continue to fight a cancer diagnosis.
“This is personal to me,” says Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim. “At Comal ISD, we treat each other as family, and it breaks my heart to know that one of our own is suffering. This is an opportunity to provide awareness, support and engagement to childhood cancer.”
The district is hosting a “Wear Gold for Childhood Cancer Awareness” day on Thursday, Sept. 19, and several campuses across the district will offer opportunities for students to raise funds for various childhood cancer foundations.
Part of the district’s month-long awareness includes website banners honoring a few students who fought personal battles with the disease. Both Rachael Chaffin and Justin Easterling are featured on gold banners on the distrtict’s website, www.comalisd.org.
Chaffin was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in the summer of 2013 before she began the sixth grade at Spring Branch Middle School. She battled the disease for almost two years, returning to school which she loved whenever she could. She passed away in April of 2015.
She started a team, Kicking Cancer with Ray Ray, in 2014, with 12 friends and family members who shaved their heads in support of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which she discovered gives every dollar raised to childhood cancer research. Her team raised almost $6,000 that first year and followed with a larger event in March 2015 at SBMS where 20 people shaved their heads including the school’s principal, Chris Smith.
SBMS continues raising funds for St. Baldrick’s in Chaffin’s memory annually with head-shaving fun and more. This year’s SBMS Childhood Cancer Awareness Campaign is scheduled for Sept. 16-20, with daily events which will raise funds for the Seth Strong Foundation and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.
The other gold banner features Justin Easterling who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2015, a day after he completed the fifth grade at Kinder Ranch Elementary where his mother, Keiba Easterling, teaches. He fought for 11 months and passed away in 2016. His passion was making movies, and he dreamed of being a film producer and animator.
Justin’s sister, Olivia, is an eighth grader at Pieper Ranch Middle School, and is involved many activities including the theater. Her older brother would be proud.
With a ready smile, Justin remained positive throughout his fight, and his mom encourages other parents whose child receives a cancer diagnosis to do the same. “Never give up hope,” she says. “Just don’t.”
-Pictured is Justin Easterling and his family. Justin was 12 years old when he passed away from leukemia in 2016. His family includes his mother, Keiba, a teacher at Kinder Ranch Elementary, his father, Jason, and his sister, Olivia, who is currently an eighth grader at Pieper Ranch Middle School.