The Grade Blog

Friday, Dec 06 2013 04:09 PM

Principal goes bald in solidarity with student fighting cancer

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    By Photo courtesy of Jeanne Tate

    Principal Bill Jager, brother Robert Martinez, mother Diane Proctor and Ben Martinez.

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    By Contributed photo

    Columbia Elementary School sixth-grader Ben Martinez, 12, suffers from alveolar rhabdonyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer. He is receiving weekly chemotherapy in Los Angeles. Principal Bill Jager promised to shave his head if a fundraiser to benefit Ben's family met its $3,000 goal. The school raised $5,000.

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  3. 3 of 3

    By Contributed photo

    Columbia Elementary School sixth-grader Ben Martinez, 12, suffers from alveolar rhabdonyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer. He is receiving weekly chemotherapy in Los Angeles. Principal Bill Jager promised to shave his head if a fundraiser to benefit Ben's family met its $3,000 goal. The school raised $5,000.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Columbia Elementary School Principal Bill Jager is prematurely bald, but it's for a good cause.

Earlier this year, he told students that if they met a $3,000 fundraising goal to help the family of a classmate battling cancer, he would shave his head in front of the whole school at a morning assembly.

Related Info

To help Ben:

* Ben Martinez has a "Facing Ben's Giant" Facebook page where his mother posts health and treatment updates and information about ongoing fundraisers. The name of the page is inspired by the biblical David and Goliath story. To see it, visit: http://tinyurl.com/mwmjflh.

* A Facing Ben's Giant Yard Sale is scheduled for 7 a.m. Saturday at 408 Cockney Court in northwest Bakersfield. All sale proceeds benefit Ben's family.

The school raised $5,000 selling yellow, $2 pediatric cancer awareness bracelets -- including a $1,000 gift from a single donor -- and on Friday, Jager proudly and gladly kept his word.

"It's just been amazing how Columbia has responded," he said. "It's been unbelievable."

The beneficiary of the fundraiser is Ben Martinez, a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Columbia who is battling alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of soft tissue cancer.

Ben first noticed a small bump on his left foot in early June. His mother initially thought it was a spider bite, but the bump started growing at an alarming rate. By June 12, on a family trip to Disneyland, Ben had to ride in a wheelchair because it hurt too much to walk.

By August, the lump was the size of a goose egg and a podiatrist did surgery. Lab work showed it was cancer.

Weekly chemotherapy treatments in Los Angeles are not only expensive but hard on Ben emotionally, said his mother Diane Proctor, who is putting her college education on hold to care for her son.

"Ben has Asperger syndrome (a type of high-functioning autism), so he likes to maintain a regular schedule and this has disrupted his routine," said Proctor, a single mother. "At the same time, he's very bright, which in some ways works against him because he remembers everything, all the negative aspects of chemotherapy. He gets very upset when he has to go."

Proctor, 43, said she has been deeply touched by the outpouring of support at her son's school.

"I'm beyond blessed," she said.

Ben's teacher, Amy Shepard, said everyone at school is eager to help because Ben is a popular boy.

"He's incredibly creative and artistic and humble and quiet, with lots and lots of friends," she said.

Jager isn't the only one walking around bald on campus. A few of Ben's classmates also have shaved their heads as a show of support.

That's typical of Columbia's spirit, Jager said. The school has a motto of "hands, hearts, minds" aimed at encouraging community service.

"We've done a lot of fundraising at our school for various causes, but this one, of course, was special because it's for one of us," Jager said.

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