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What this teacher did for a student diagnosed with cancer will warm your heart

Rural NSW primary school teacher, Carmen Spry, gave her students a powerful lesson in paying it forward.

In 2016, Forbes primary school teacher Carmen Spry was teaching a year five/six class when one of her students' siblings was diagnosed with Leukaemia, contributing to the estimated 3,975 new cases of Leukaemia that were diagnosed in Australia in 2017.

Ava Garland was only three when she was diagnosed with cancer, forcing her parents to relocate to Sydney to commence Ava's 18-month long treatment.

With four older daughters, Ava's parents had to make the difficult decision to leave their girls with relatives, which, for three of their daughters, meant changing schools and moving away from their friends.

Having worked at St Laurence's Primary School for 15 years, Carmen had come to know the Garland family well, and immediately wanted to offer her support.

"It's absolutely dreadful when someone has been diagnosed with Leukaemia, especially someone that young," Carmen says. "For me, it was watching what the family was going through as they tried to make those right decisions.

"It broke my heart that the family couldn't be together at such a time that they really needed to."

"It was a bit of a roller coaster. I said, 'Of course I'll shave my head!' and before I knew it, that train was in motion and I could not turn back." *Photo: supplied*
"It was a bit of a roller coaster. I said, 'Of course I'll shave my head!' and before I knew it, that train was in motion and I could not turn back." Photo: supplied

Inspired by three school community members who'd taken part in the World's Greatest Shave in 2016 – Ava's older sister Scarlett (year seven), year six student Tom Maslin and the Garland girls' bus driver – Carmen decided to sign up to do the shave in December 2017.

"So many people do the World's Greatest Shave when it's somebody really close to them, or it's a nephew or a niece or a child," Carmen says.

"I've been lucky that I haven't had many people affected by cancer, so for me, I was like, 'I'm in a good place. I think I can do good things.' I don't have to wait for a certain situation to do something for someone else."

"Walking around with a shaved head too, I think it's a continual reminder, like, 'Oh yeah, that's what they did that for.'" *Photo: supplied*
"Walking around with a shaved head too, I think it's a continual reminder, like, 'Oh yeah, that's what they did that for.'" Photo: supplied

Exceeding her initial fundraising target of $2,000, Carmen raised an impressive $8,251.75 for the Leukaemia Foundation through bake sales, sausage sizzles, cooking classes and raffles.

The money Carmen raised will contribute to supporting those diagnosed with blood cancers such as Leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma, and help to fund future research projects.

"The thing I really admire about the Leukaemia Foundation is not just their investment in research and treatment for patients, but also the support (emotionally and financially) it gives to families.

"Courses of treatment are often extensive, and for patients in regional areas, it means being separated from your families for long periods of time, being unable to work or attend school."

Carmen with her husband, David, and children Charlie (10) and Ruby (seven). *Photo: supplied*
Carmen with her husband, David, and children Charlie (10) and Ruby (seven). Photo: supplied

After receiving so much support from students and parents, Carmen wanted the shave to take place at a school assembly.

"Students were falling over themselves to help sell the final raffle tickets and welcome people at the door," recalls Carmen. "It was heartwarming to see our school community come together in this way.

"I had lined up my usual hairdresser to do the deed, she was super excited, having tended to my long thick hair for years! With so much hair it seemed to take a while to shave off. But, oh! What a great feeling!"

Carmen with her daughter, Ruby, thanking the St Laurence's school community for their support. *Photo: supplied*
Carmen with her daughter, Ruby, thanking the St Laurence's school community for their support. Photo: supplied

Apart from raising an enormous amount of money and awareness for blood cancer, Carmen believes it taught her students a powerful message in empathy.

"[Students and I] talked about doing things for other people; it might be hard but life isn't so bad and you need to be grateful for what you've got. It was a really beautiful lesson in paying it forward.

"A few kids from school have said to me, 'I'm going to do it next' and 'I'm going to raise some money'. It's just about paying it forward and doing something for somebody else."

The Sprys and Garlands on the day of Carmen's shave. *Photo: supplied*
The Sprys and Garlands on the day of Carmen's shave. Photo: supplied

Having completed her Sydney treatment, Ava is back at home in Forbes with her four older sisters and parents, where she continues to undergo further treatment.

"Watching this story unfold, as a teacher, and more deeply, as a mother, my heart really went out to this family," Carmen reflects.

"They always gave so much and they still do to the community. They're still involved in school fetes and raffles and that sort of thing and they've actually gone on to do a lot of fundraising to help out with Leukaemia. They're really incredible people."

Inspired by Carmen's story? For more information on this year's World's Greatest Shave, or to find out how you can be involved, visit worldsgreatestshave.com.

Brought to you by the Leukaemia Foundation

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