Hiatt Celebrates Birthday of Classmate, Cancer Patient Justin Chey

The Hiatt Middle School community came together to celebrate the 13th birthday of classmate and cancer patient Justin Chey.

Justin Chey’s officially a teenager as of today despite carrying adult-sized burdens for quite a while; burdens that have gotten a lot heavier of late.

But today was a celebration and his classmates (and then some) threw him quite the 13th birthday party at Hiatt Middle School. There were decorations. There was a magician. There was cake – lots of it! There were hundreds of cards, including a batch from the kids at Urbandale Middle School. And there were gifts. The East High football team personally delivered a bunch of Scarlet gear in recognition of the fact that Justin had planned to play in a youth league this fall until something else came up.

Maybe you’ve heard about Justin’s plight. Already shouldering lots of responsibility at home where he helped care for ailing grandparents, cooked meals while his mother was at work and pitched in financially by working odd jobs, he collapsed one day at school due to a cancerous brain tumor that was causing extreme headaches and nausea which had been chalked up to flu. Since it was diagnosed the tumor’s required two surgeries, the second of which was just yesterday, and chemotherapy and radiation treatments are the next steps. Since that bad news broke there has been an outpouring of good tidings spearheaded by, but hardly limited to, the Hiatt community. Today the staff and student body there really embraced Justin and his family, with considerable help from one new found friend in particular. More on that later.

Hiatt is a school where the students wear uniforms. Since Justin got sick the acceptable attire has been expanded to include the hundreds of t-shirts that were sold to raise money in support of the Chey family. On the front they read “Team Justin.” On the back they declare that “No One Stands Alone.” Proceeds from the sale of the shirts combined with those generated by $10 donations the Hiatt teachers made to their own “Jeans for Justin” campaign (those who chipped in got to wear jeans to class this week) paid for an iPad that was presented to the birthday boy during the gala in the Hiatt gym. He’s to use it, it was emphasized, for homework until he can get back to school on a regular basis.

“We are making sure that Justin will be able to keep up with his schoolwork,” said Hiatt Principal Debra Chapman. “He’ll have all the support he needs while he’s dealing with his treatments until he can come back fulltime.”

Justin, sporting a new haircut that removed his thatch of thick, black hair and his mother, Kelly, who works nights as a custodian at Lincoln High, sat and watched from a cushy loveseat set up for them on the gym floor and he seemed particularly amused by the trickery of magician Ben Ulin who told the audience crowded into the bleachers that “magic makes people smile,” and then proved it with one sleight of hand after another.

After the cake was cut and a mass rendition of Happy Birthday was sung, the real capper was presented. Maurice Mitchell, a man Justin had never met but who had heard about his troubles, presented him with a picture of himself and his wife, Phyllis, who’s in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, a malady that also afflicts Justin’s grandmother. “I also want to give you a check for $5,000,” Mitchell said. “At first I thought you could use it for a trip to Disneyland, but you and your family use it however you need to.”

While everyone either cheered or cried, or both, the old man and the new teen hugged. Whatever Mitchell whispered to him only Justin could hear. Then someone asked Justin how he was feeling. “Happy and excited,” said the boy who just had his second surgery for a cancerous brain tumor yesterday. Everyone around him was smiling.

Just like magic.

Photos of Justin Chey’s Birthday Part at Hiatt

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