By Lynne Golodner
Haley Wallace doesn’t let anything get her down. A child survivor of Rhabdomyosarcoma – a rare cancer that was caught early – Haley is graduating from Madison High School in Adrian, Mich., with her freshman year of college already complete, thanks to an intense dedication to be dually enrolled in high school and college simultaneously for the past year.
Part of her strength comes from her years involved with Kids Kicking Cancer (KKC). When she was diagnosed at eight years old, Haley didn’t want to do anything. She refused to eat and was losing weight at a rapid pace.
Knowing she’d always wanted to do karate, her Nana and Papa found KKC and brought her to a Heroes Circle program. “After the class on the drive home, I was hungry for once,” Haley recalls.
“I felt left out because all the kids at school weren’t going through cancer,” she says. “The kids in my school weren’t the nicest. I didn’t feel like I had a friend group after getting cancer; they were all running away from me.”
But at KKC, “seeing kids that had cancer like I did or some sort of illness, being bald when you’re not supposed to be, you see people who are a lot like you. The students there are very accepting and always make sure a new person is welcome.”
On her first day, during the break in class, “all the students ran up and I remember the kids competing as to who could get me water first,” she says with a smile.
Haley met the girls who would become her best friends – Danielle McKay, Paris Davis and Je’Nailya Belew – early on in her experience with KKC.
“They’re all goofy like me,” she says. “We all have a great sense of humor, joke with each other.” And, every year, they recreate a picture they took one of the first times they met, back when Haley had no hair due to her treatments. “It’s amazing seeing how much we’ve grown up over the years,” she says.
KKC’s AYA: Teen Empowerment Program helped Haley figure out her next steps post-high school. She’s enjoyed cooking programs and other classes that are teaching her how to be independent once she moves into her own place. Jackson College recruited Haley for its bowling team, so after high school, she’ll complete a 3-in-1 degree, studying for three years at Jackson and finishing with a bachelor’s degree at Wayne State University. She might be a businesswoman, might become
a medical assistant – she’s not sure yet what the future holds. Whatever it is, though, she’ll go far.
Besides, she’s already an entrepreneur. Haley crochets shawls, scarves and stuffed animals, and friends are placing orders. She’s planning to create an Etsy account soon.
One of Haley’s favorite memories from KKC was going to New York for the CNN awards and meeting Sheryl Crow, Mark Consuelos, Nick Cannon and other celebrities that she had no idea about. “I thought they were just my friends,” she laughs.
“At KKC, I learned I’m not alone,” Haley says. “They give you hope when you think there’s no hope.”
In high school, Haley wrote a paper about how cancer can be a blessing in disguise. “Even with the bad parts of cancer, it led me to meeting more people, who are now my family,” she says. “If I wouldn’t have had cancer, I wouldn’t be as accepting of other people as I am now.”
“One of the most impactful lessons I’ve learned from KKC is not to judge people just based on face value,” Haley says. “It’s easier to judge someone than taking the time to learn about who they actually are.”
She’s also learned to breathe through stressful or painful moments. She harnessed KKC’s power breathing techniques during treatments and also later, when facing a difficult test or worrying about a homework assignment.
“I’ve had a lot of experiences teaching this to others,” she says. “There’s always hope, even if things look bleak. In this program, you have a family, and you have friends. This is the place where I learned that I can be myself.”