In a kindergarten classroom in Carlsbad, the letter “C” stands for "conquering cancer." There, you’ll find three students all dealing first-hand with the disease, finding comfort in one another, and in their campus community.
Charlotte Bejarano, a kindergarten teacher at Carrillo Elementary School in San Diego’s North County, has 22 students in her class. Three of those children – Micah, Avery and Brooks – were all diagnosed with cancer.
The statistics are unheard of and, as Bejarano puts it, “profound.” In her 17 years of teaching, she’s never experienced a year in the classroom quite like this one.
Micah is dealing with neuroblastoma; Avery with leukemia; Brooks with a brain tumor.
With support from their school, the kindergarten students are finding the strength to move past their diseases and forge a new bond: having bright futures, free of cancer.
With a rare occurrence such as this, it’s natural to wonder if the children shared something else in common; if something in their shared environment caused the cancers.
Turns out, all were diagnosed before starting kindergarten in their Carlsbad classroom. After exhausting all possible links, their families and doctors determined this was just all horrible coincidence.
Today, Micah, Avery and Brooks are all back together in their class, finishing the school year strong.
The little ones are eager to share their stories with anyone who will listen.
Sitting side by side, the kids were asked by NBC 7 if cancer is scary.
“No! Yes. No!” they chimed in all at once.
“Kinda. In the middle – kinda,” they all agreed.
“What do your parents tell you guys?” NBC 7 asked them.
“My parents say, ‘Don’t grow up,’” said Avery.
“Be brave,” said Brooks.
“My parents say, ‘Keep away cancer, and if it comes back, fight it away quickly,’” said Micah.
Together, the trio smiled.
Watching her students fight back from cancer wasn’t enough for Bejarano. She knew the school had to do something to help.
Which brings us to Friday; a special kindergarten awards ceremony was held on the blacktop at the campus, attended by the entire school.
The event was the culmination of a fundraising drive to benefit the nonprofit, St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which supports childhood cancer research.
With nonstop cheering from students and faculty, the elementary school honored their three little survivors and then watched as, one by one, dozens of participants including fellow classmates, teachers and parents stepped up to a barstool to get their head shaved as a show of support for Micah, Avery and Brooks.
Bejarano said she’s touched by the support from her school – but not the least bit surprised.
Seven years ago, she beat breast cancer herself, with a strong support system pushing her along the way.
“That’s how I got through my cancer – here I am, a survivor,” she said.
Her story and theirs, part of an unforgettable year in kindergarten where the lessons learned will carry far beyond the classroom.