Teacher shaves head to support student
NAUGATUCK — Team Christian. It’s a group of Naugatuck school faculty, staff and students ranging from kindergarten through high school who support a 10-year-old child who is battling cancer.
And while the team captain is indisputably Christian Michael Caruso, Hillside Intermediate School art teacher John Forish has proven himself a key player.
Forish allowed Christian, a fifth-grader at Hillside, to shave his teacher’s head during a pep rally of sorts for Christian in the school’s gymnasium Tuesday morning.
“It was really fun; I was a little nervous at first, but got over that,” Christian said.
He was nervous, he said, because the school’s more than 250 students, faculty and staff packed the gym chanting “Christian, Christian, Christian” until the man of the hour walked to where Forish was sitting at center court, grabbed electrical shears and gently placed them alongside Forish’s brown locks.
The school band members pounded their drums and the audience in the stands stomped their feet and clapped their hands as each clump of hair drifted toward the hardwood.
Within about 10 minutes, Forish looked a lot like Christian — bald to the scalp.
Christian lost his hair after starting chemotherapy treatment two months ago as part of his battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.
Christian said he and his parents noticed symptoms in the spring. He had inexplicable pain in his limbs, he lost about 20 pounds, he wasn’t eating much, he was tired and he had a swollen gland in his neck. On Oct. 7, doctors at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford conducted a biopsy and discovered the cancer.
“As soon as we learned about Christian’s illness, we thought about what we could do,” Hillside Principal Johnna Hunt said.
Teachers at Christian’s former elementary school, Andrew Avenue in Naugatuck, decided to organize “Team Christian” and do all they could to support Christian and his family. They asked Hillside to get involved.
Collectively, the two schools, with a little help from others across the district, sold thousands of purple “Team Christian” wristbands to raise money for the family. Hillside also gave Christian a new bicycle on Tuesday.
Since the fall, the two schools have been wearing purple to honor Christian. A purple ribbon is supposed to symbolize awareness for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and also happens to be Christian’s favorite color.
“Since we started this, the kids have been saying, ‘We want to do purple this and purple that,’” Hunt said. “They want to do all they can to support Christian.”
Forish wanted to support his student as well, and decided to put his hair where his mouth is. Tuesday marks the first time he ever shaved his head. He described the feeling as simply “cold.”
But the gesture made Christian and others feel warm this holiday season.
“I always want to do anything I can to help any of the kids here who need it,” Forish said. “And Christian is just a great kid. I really believe he is going to pull through this and hope we are going to be important in helping him keep that positive outlook.”
While Hodgkin’s lymphoma is rare for a 10-year-old — it is most commonly diagnosed in people 15 to 30 or older than 55, according to the Mayo Clinic — doctors told Christian and his family that his age will help him fight the disease. He is expected to make a full recovery, said his mother, Stephanie Chimera.
She has been overjoyed with the response from the community, especially from those at Andrew Avenue and Hillside schools.
“It’s been amazing and interesting to realize how many people really care about your son,” she said. “I know he’s an amazing kid, and it’s nice to see that other people do, too.”
Christian will have chemotherapy treatments for about eight months. For the time being, he has a friend and mentor in Forish — who knows at least part of what he’s going through — and hundreds of others in his corner.
“I just can’t thank people enough for all they have done for me,” he said. “With all the support I’m getting, I’m feeling better than I would have been.”
See a video from Tuesday here.