By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
— MaryAnne Dishon’s jewelry-making class at Taylor High School watched as a bald child in a wheelchair held up a sign scrawled with the words, “cancer no fun.”
It was the second video they had viewed about childhood cancer.
Dishon was trying to prepare them for their upcoming project — crafting beads of courage.
“This isn’t about a grade,” she told the class. “It’s not about doing something for yourselves. It’s supposed to be unselfish. We want to send this off knowing we put our hearts into it.”
The students are making beads of all colors, shapes and sizes to give to children fighting cancer to help them tell their stories.
It’s part of a nationwide project called Beads of Courage, started by Arizona pediatric oncology nurse Jean Barush.
When Barush graduated from a top nursing school in Arizona, she knew how to care for the children physically, but she was looking for a way to reach them emotionally, she told CBS News in 2010.
“These kids were seeking something tangible,” she said.
So she came up with the idea to give them beads for every step in their cancer journey.
A white bead for every chemotherapy treatment. A red bead for every time the child’s life depends on a blood transfusion. A yellow bead every time they’re away from the comforts of home.
“The brown bead is the bead most kids don’t look forward to,” Barush told CBS News. “It’s for hair loss.”
After two years of treatment, a kid in the program averages 500 beads. Some have more than 1,000, CBS reported.
A TOUCHING VIDEO
Dishon and her students watched the CBS News clip one afternoon. It was their first introduction to the program.
They watched as children tried to explain the procedures they had endured.
They saw a father wearing his small child’s beads around his neck because they became too heavy for her to carry on her own.
They saw a 10-year-old with a brain tumor clutching her stuffed rabbit as she waited for yet another procedure.
“She has a brain tumor like me,” she said as she pointed to her rabbit.
They heard not only what the beads mean to the kids but also what they mean to parents whose children lost their fight with cancer.
Barush recounted a story to CBS News.
“One mother in particular, she said, ‘I have those beads hanging in the shadow box. They hang outside my bedroom door. And I can see them when I’m lying in bed. And there are some days I don’t want to get out of bed. But I look at those beads and say, you know what? Your 7-year-old daughter went through all of that. You can get through today.’ ”
Barush was weeping by the time she finished telling the story.
MOVED TO TEARS
And Dishon’s class was crying by the time they finished the video. It’s wasn’t just the girls, either, Dishon said.
“I cried on that one,” sophomore Kyle Roe said. “It gave you the perspective of how kids look at the beads and what it means to them.”
Roe said his grandmother died of lung cancer so this project is personal for him.
Dishon said the teens can relate to this project. Nearly everyone has been touched by the disease.
She asked her 20 students to raise their hands if they know someone who has had cancer. All but two had.
There are two young children in Taylor Community School Corp. right now who are fighting cancer.
Dishon’s introduction to cancer came in high school.
She was dating an athlete. He was a distance runner and would often ride his bike to her house to hang out.
One day he showed up at her doorstep and told her he needed to go to the doctor. He wasn’t feeling like himself. He was tired all of the time.
A week later, he came back to tell her he had cancer.
He couldn’t see her while he was undergoing treatments. His immune system was compromised. But he stopped by for a visit before he left for a bone marrow transplant.
“That was the last time I saw him,” she said. “He passed away.”
MAKING THE BEADS
Dishon walked around her classroom on a recent afternoon. Students were making beads for the second day.
Some were using torches to melt glass into a bead. Others were using polymer clay to make multi-colored beads.
Dishon stopped for a moment to show one group how to make a burnished bead — a low, flat clay bead that’s polished to a sparkling shine.
“When I think about kids, shiny is a big deal,” Dishon said.
Dishon has a burnished bead that a student gave her when she herself was fighting cancer.
On it, the student had depicted a woman raising her arms in victory. The piece came with a card that said, “woman of strength.”
That piece helped get Dishon through her treatments.
“It was really moving,” she said.
The art teacher said she wants her students to make their beads with meaning and purpose like that.
“Symbolically, jewelry means so much more than just the piece,” she said.