Incarnate Word Academy comes together for sophomore with brain tumor

The saying goes that bald is beautiful. And with the recent head shaving of three staff members at Incarnate Word Academy, the community there also was hoping to become closer to one of their own.The saying goes that bald is beautiful. And with the recent head shaving of three staff members at Incarnate Word Academy, the community there also was hoping to become closer to one of their own. The head-shaving ceremony held last week was part of an effort to help offset the medical expenses of Taylor Rozier, a sophomore at the all-girls Catholic high school in Bel-Nor, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor last December. Over the course of about two months, the school of 550 students raised more than $21,000 in various ways. Taylor, who attends St. Martin de Porres Parish in Hazelwood with her family, began losing her hair in mid-January from chemo and radiation therapy. As Taylor went though surgery to remove the orange-sized tumor and was set to begin her treatments, Spanish teacher Paula Sullins decided that Taylor should not have to go through it alone. When the school’s counselor sent the faculty an e-mail that Taylor would lose her hair, "I thought about how difficult it would be for a high school student to lose her hair. I didn’t want her to feel alone," said Sullins. "I thought that we could turn something that originally would be a disappointing and frightful thing for anyone ... and we could turn it into something fun and uplifting, not just for Taylor, but for the whole school." The school sold raffle tickets to win the honor of shaving the heads of three teachers — Sullins; New and Old Testament teacher Danielle Charles; and John Gundy, who teaches chemistry and geometry and is Taylor’s homeroom teacher. To keep the school in suspense, the teachers’ identities were kept a secret until the day of the actual shaving. The whole effort of raising money for Taylor’s medical expenses originally was spearheaded by a group of her friends, who in January began selling light-blue rubber bracelets with the words, "Stay Strong, Taylor." Sophomores Alex Suess, Abbey Gebhardt, Erin Edwards and Lisa Nettelhorst garnered about $3,000, selling the bracelets for $2 each. The group chose the light blue color, Taylor’s favorite, and picked the message as a way to reach out to Taylor and show "the support as a community," said Alex. Thirteen students also had their hair lopped off the day of the teachers’ head shaving and donated to Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that makes hairpieces for young people who have lost their hair for medical reasons. Sullins said that other students were coming up with fund-raising ideas of their own, including a group of juniors who had a party and raised $700. Another student brought in a jar of pennies her family had been collecting that was worth about $200. Principal Randy Berzon-Mikolas noted that part of the motto at Incarnate Word Academy calls on its students to "personify pride and excellence." But she said that even she and the administrators at the school were a bit surprised at the level of excellence the school community reached through helping Taylor. "When we talk about the human dignity about the human person, it reflects every student," said Berzon-Mikolas. Charles, who also shaved her head, said she was met with questions from some of her family and friends. "They said, ‘Is this really the best time for you to be doing this?’" during the cold weather, according to Charles. "All I could think was Taylor didn’t choose this time either." Charles said she also felt as a theology teacher that she needed to help Taylor see that God was with her. "And if I’m standing up talking about how your faith in God can help you through all kinds of difficulties — for me it was like a challenge. How far are you willing to go to show how much you trust God and to help your students to see that God is with them as well?" Dean of students Jim Johnson, who was in on what he called "conspiring" with Sullins to orchestrate the head shaving, said he was "overwhelmed" and "amazed" at what the Incarnate community had done. "When we ask something like this, they come through," said Johnson. "But this went above and beyond." In addition to selling raffle tickets for the head-shaving event, the school also raffled off a silver bracelet with a heart charm, which was donated by Krekeler Jewelers in O’Fallon. Tickets were being sold for $1 apiece or 6 for $5. Johnson said students would bring up money to those selling the raffle tickets, and when asked which raffle they wanted, some said, "‘Neither, I just want to give the money.’ So much of it was just the kids wanting to give. They were like, ‘Here, I have $3 or $8.’" Johnson also credited other groups with ties to the school for their donations, including $1,000 from the parents’ club, $1,000 from the alumnae association and the $1,500 maintenance director Phil Jarvis collected from friends over one weekend. Teachers also were randomly dropping off checks on Johnson’s desk. Taylor’s mother, Lisa Rozier, said her daughter began displaying symptoms in early November that something was wrong. "She had an episode when I picked her up from school," said Rozier. "We were just driving along and all of a sudden, her left had gone like this — " as she displayed a stiffened arm. "She couldn’t move it, and her left leg was feeling tingly." Lisa Rozier instructed another girl in the car to call 911, but in the meantime, Taylor’s symptoms had stopped. Lisa Rozier then called her daughter’s pediatrician. Doctors and several neurologists chalked up her symptoms to panic anxiety attacks, and anything major seemed to be ruled out of the picture, said Lisa Rozier. But when Taylor began vomiting and started getting headaches, that’s when her mom said, "OK, somebody needs to do something. These are not panic attacks." On Dec. 13, Taylor’s pediatrician ordered an MRI, and that same day doctors discovered the tumor. She went in for surgery the next day. Surgeons successfully removed the tumor, and Taylor has since completed more than a month of radiation therapy and continues on a schedule of chemo treatments. Lisa Rozier called her daughter "an amazing young woman. She’s my strength." As for Taylor, the soft-spoken young woman said she, too, has been overwhelmed by her fellow students’ support. "Thank you so much," she simply said.

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