New program helps young cancer patients return to classroom

Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 7:32 PM EST
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ROANOKE CO., Va. (WDBJ) - First-grader Orion Moses took on the role of teacher Thursday afternoon.

“And I was asleep in a special place in the hospital, and they put the port in and then they sewed, they stitched the hole back up,” he told members of his class at Bonsack Elementary School.

Diagnosed with leukemia over two years ago, he’s doing well today, and glad to be back in the classroom.

He was joined by professionals from Carilion Children’s Oncology: Certified Child Life Specialist Carli Holtzhauer and Education Support Navigator Amy Fender.

“You’ve got the red blood cells that carry the energy, and then you have the white blood cells that fight off germs and bacteria that aren’t healthy for your body,” Fender told the students.

Fender’s position is a new one.

She started in January after 17 years as a classroom teacher, and she’s already helping young people like Orion keep up with their studies and make a successful return to school.

“The doctors can’t sit in on a conference. They can only do so much providing the school staff with health information,” Fender told WDBJ7. “The parents are overwhelmed so I’m the person that can bridge that gap.”

After several years of advocacy by the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation, the Virginia General Assembly provided funding for the program in the current budget. And supporters are confident the pilot project, will prove its value.

“We’re so excited to see the impact it’s going to have on kids, really, for years to come,” said Amy Godkin, Executive Director of the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation. “School plays such an important role in their lives.”

You don’t have to persuade the parents of Orion Moses.

“Before all of this, I had no idea there was this level of treatment and assistance in Roanoke,” said Bobby Moses, Orion’s dad.

“I’m just very thankful for all of the help that we’ve received from friends and family and the staff at Carilion and the staff here,” said Vanessa Moses, Orion’s mom. “It’s a really long journey with his diagnosis, but he’s done remarkably well considering everything. And so, we’re very proud of him.”