When fourth-grade teacher Amy Wellsandt asked her classroom at South Pines Elementary School if they knew anyone who had cancer, most of the students raised their hands.
Student Samantha Hubbard’s neighbor, Gretchen DeRusha, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer when Hubbard was just in kindergarten. She was surprised to learn chemotherapy would make DeRusha’s hair fall out.
In the past year, Hubbard and four of her friends, Ashley Miller, Shelby Irmer, Bella Vensland and Emily Acosta have all donated their hair to Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces to underprivileged children who have cancer.
As a thank you, DeRusha visited the students in Wellsandt’s classroom Thursday to present them with a certificate.
“I am here to tell you a story,” DeRusha told them. She said when she was getting chemotherapy she lost all of her hair. She showed the wig she used to wear. She told everyone about the girls’ donation and asked how much hair they donated and how long it took them to grow it.
“We love them so much for what they did,” DeRusha said.
Each of the girls said making the donations made them feel good and they all look forward to donating again.
At least one is trying to speed up the process. Ashley said she eats frozen peas to make her hair grow faster.
DeRusha and Samantha have been friends for a long time.
“I’ve known her since she was born,” DeRusha said. Samantha’s father, Skip Hubbard, said his daughter often visited DeRusha when she was really sick, even if it was just to sit with her.
“She’s always been a sensitive soul,” Hubbard said.
DuRusha said she is doing well. While they gave her six months to a year to live when she was diagnosed, she is now off chemotherapy and taking medication.
She said maintaining a positive attitude was key to her recovery.
The five girls have been in the same classes since they were in kindergarten. When they were in third grade one of their classmates, Tre Worthy, was diagnosed with cancer and the students made a quilt for him.
They said two boys in their class have very long hair and they are trying to talk them into donating as well.
DeRusha said she appreciates what the girls did very much.
“Each one of you are so, so special,” she said.