Through This Together started five years ago at Brody Middle School. It’s an annual event to raise cancer awareness that also raises many spirits. One of the students at the assembly that first year was then-8th grader Jenna Gilliam. She’s a senior now at Lincoln High School, a highly accomplished one, and she was so deeply affected by that assembly five years ago that she decided to pay it forward.
Wednesday morning Jenna was back at Brody for Through This Together V to announce that she and her fellow student council members at Lincoln are planning a similar event there that will happen next month.
“I called Mrs. (Sherri) Oliver (Brody’s office manager) and asked if she would help us copy the model from here at Brody, the middle school I was so honored to attend,” Jenna told the crowd packed into the school gym.
And true to form, Mrs. Oliver was happy to oblige.
The catalyst for this growing Brody tradition was a grim diagnosis of esophageal cancer that Oliver’s wife Ed received in 2013.
“We were told to hope for time, not a cure,” Sherri said. Recently, they were told that time’s running out, but they have certainly made the most of the last four ½ years. Ed could not be there this year, but he will share in the shower of surprises bestowed upon him and Sherri by their extended Brody family.
The Olivers were married on Valentine’s Day 35 years ago. So they received 35 gifts from Brody students and staff, in celebration of their anniversary. The presentation of assorted flowers, cards, photographs and balloons was not part of the program but it was a highlight.
Oliver described the event as a mixture of “tears and cheers” in her opening remarks and the gifts for her and Ed brought one of the loudest examples of the latter.
Another was 7th grade math teacher Jenna Knudtson’s announcement that she is a cancer survivor. “I thought I was just exhausted because you guys wear me out,” she said. “But it turned out I had thyroid cancer. So I went through some radiation treatment and around Thanksgiving I was officially declared in remission – cancer free!”
Brody Activities Coordinator and PE teacher Diana Repp shared some cancer stats:
- More than 15 million Americans are living with cancer.
- 7 million new cases will be diagnosed this year.
- More than 600,000 will lose their battles in 2018; more than 1,600 each day.
Those big numbers were reflected in the response when Repp asked for a show of hands from those whose lives have been touched by the disease and more shot up than didn’t. But the good news is that the survival rate is on the rise. New treatments are discovered all the time.
Take the group therapy study that’s been underway for five years now at a middle school on the Southside of Des Moines. The results have been so encouraging that it’s expanding to high school.