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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Fighting cancer while finding herself at the same time

  • Merrimack Valley sophomore Haley Roy, 16, who has lymphoma, wipes away tears as her friends Molly Brochu, left, 15, Sierra Dube, 15, Celine Burrows, 15, Callie Brochu, 15, Kristen Simoneau, 15, Mariah Elkins, 15, and Izzy Hoyt, 16, surround her after performing a Zumba dance to the song "Roar" that they learned specially for her during a Zumbathon fundraiser to help pay for her treatment on Sunday, January 19, 2014.  "I don't know a lot of people here, but they're all here for me.  It kind of blows my mind," said Haley.  On Wednesday, February 5, the Harlem Wizards will play a benefit game for Haley.  <br/><br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley sophomore Haley Roy, 16, who has lymphoma, wipes away tears as her friends Molly Brochu, left, 15, Sierra Dube, 15, Celine Burrows, 15, Callie Brochu, 15, Kristen Simoneau, 15, Mariah Elkins, 15, and Izzy Hoyt, 16, surround her after performing a Zumba dance to the song "Roar" that they learned specially for her during a Zumbathon fundraiser to help pay for her treatment on Sunday, January 19, 2014. "I don't know a lot of people here, but they're all here for me. It kind of blows my mind," said Haley. On Wednesday, February 5, the Harlem Wizards will play a benefit game for Haley.


    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Michelle Brochu, a Zumba instructor and the mother of one of Haley Roy's best friends, smiles up at Haley while leading the group during a Zumbathon fundraiser to help pay for Haley's treatment on Sunday, January 19, 2014.  Haley has stage 1 lymphoma.  On Wednesday, February 5, the Harlem Wizards will play a benefit game for Haley.  <br/><br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Michelle Brochu, a Zumba instructor and the mother of one of Haley Roy's best friends, smiles up at Haley while leading the group during a Zumbathon fundraiser to help pay for Haley's treatment on Sunday, January 19, 2014. Haley has stage 1 lymphoma. On Wednesday, February 5, the Harlem Wizards will play a benefit game for Haley.


    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Haley Roy, 16, who has lymphoma, kisses her friend Celine Burrows, 15, on the cheek as Haley's mom, Laurie Chase, watches during a Zumbathon fundraiser to help pay for Haley's treatment on Sunday, January 19, 2014.  On Wednesday, February 5, the Harlem Wizards will play a benefit game for Haley.  <br/><br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Haley Roy, 16, who has lymphoma, kisses her friend Celine Burrows, 15, on the cheek as Haley's mom, Laurie Chase, watches during a Zumbathon fundraiser to help pay for Haley's treatment on Sunday, January 19, 2014. On Wednesday, February 5, the Harlem Wizards will play a benefit game for Haley.


    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Haley Roy's medications are gathered on the counter at her home in Loudon on Sunday, January 19, 2014.<br/><br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Haley Roy's medications are gathered on the counter at her home in Loudon on Sunday, January 19, 2014.


    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley sophomore Haley Roy, 16, who has lymphoma, sits for a portrait in her bedroom in Loudon before a Zumbathon fundraiser to help pay for her treatment on Sunday, January 19, 2014.  On Wednesday, February 5, the Harlem Wizards will play a benefit game for Haley.  <br/><br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Merrimack Valley sophomore Haley Roy, 16, who has lymphoma, sits for a portrait in her bedroom in Loudon before a Zumbathon fundraiser to help pay for her treatment on Sunday, January 19, 2014. On Wednesday, February 5, the Harlem Wizards will play a benefit game for Haley.


    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

  • Merrimack Valley sophomore Haley Roy, 16, who has lymphoma, wipes away tears as her friends Molly Brochu, left, 15, Sierra Dube, 15, Celine Burrows, 15, Callie Brochu, 15, Kristen Simoneau, 15, Mariah Elkins, 15, and Izzy Hoyt, 16, surround her after performing a Zumba dance to the song "Roar" that they learned specially for her during a Zumbathon fundraiser to help pay for her treatment on Sunday, January 19, 2014.  "I don't know a lot of people here, but they're all here for me.  It kind of blows my mind," said Haley.  On Wednesday, February 5, the Harlem Wizards will play a benefit game for Haley.  <br/><br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Michelle Brochu, a Zumba instructor and the mother of one of Haley Roy's best friends, smiles up at Haley while leading the group during a Zumbathon fundraiser to help pay for Haley's treatment on Sunday, January 19, 2014.  Haley has stage 1 lymphoma.  On Wednesday, February 5, the Harlem Wizards will play a benefit game for Haley.  <br/><br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Haley Roy, 16, who has lymphoma, kisses her friend Celine Burrows, 15, on the cheek as Haley's mom, Laurie Chase, watches during a Zumbathon fundraiser to help pay for Haley's treatment on Sunday, January 19, 2014.  On Wednesday, February 5, the Harlem Wizards will play a benefit game for Haley.  <br/><br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Haley Roy's medications are gathered on the counter at her home in Loudon on Sunday, January 19, 2014.<br/><br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Merrimack Valley sophomore Haley Roy, 16, who has lymphoma, sits for a portrait in her bedroom in Loudon before a Zumbathon fundraiser to help pay for her treatment on Sunday, January 19, 2014.  On Wednesday, February 5, the Harlem Wizards will play a benefit game for Haley.  <br/><br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

The cancer has changed Haley Roy, but not like you’d think.

Yes, she’s scared, sometimes even mad. Yes, she’s bald, and in fact has gone out in public without a scarf on her head just twice the past two months. Yes, cancer treatments zap her strength, form sores in her mouth, cause migraine headaches, dull her taste buds and make her feel nauseous.

But something else is happening to this sophomore at Merrimack Valley High School, something that has her feeling more comfortable in her own skin than ever before.

Perhaps you’re fighting cancer or you’ve battled it previously and you understand where Haley is coming from. Maybe you can appreciate this evolutionary process that she’s going through, this metamorphosis of the spirit.

Haley says her growing sense of self connects to her awareness of how much she has. The outpouring of love and support, she says, has opened her eyes.

For example, the Zumbathon for Haley was held yesterday at her high school, and the parking lot was packed.

And on Feb. 5, the Harlem Wizards will bring their basketball antics to the school for another fundraiser. They will play Haley’s Heroes, a team made up of teachers and students that will also include her stepfather, Steve Chase.

Both events will help defray the costs of those trips to hospitals in Manchester and Boston. They will cover expenses for food, lodging and gas, and help a girl from Loudon realize that others are with her, along for the ride.

“Before the diagnosis, I was really shy, really awkward,”

said Haley, diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma in October. “I hated meeting people. Now I’m more open, so it’s been good in that way.”

Haley was quick to praise the Merrimack Valley High nursing staff, which she says organized the Wizards event.

“Incredible the way they care about me,” Haley said. “Behind the scenes they did the whole thing. Having it be all about me will be crazy.”

And a nice distraction from those trips south for medical care. Some are expected, like the two-day sessions of chemotherapy in Boston every three weeks.

Others are not, like the time Haley’s temperature soared to 102.7, meaning the family had to rush her to Elliot Hospital in Manchester for antibiotics, then zip to Boston Children’s Hospital, in the back of an ambulance during a snowstorm, to continue Haley’s fight against infection.

She and her mother, Monitor employee Laurie Chase, spent nine days in the hospital during that episode.

By then, Haley was fed up with the disruptions in her life.

“The plans I was looking forward to got canceled,” she said. “It happens a lot with doctor appointments and fevers. After awhile, you don’t get sad; you get mad.”

Back up to last summer, before the sadness and anger, to the fear of the unknown. What was that lump in front of Haley’s right ear?

After an ultrasound and antibiotics and surgery came the biopsy. Then came the testing, then the waiting.

“A month of agony,” Laurie Chase said.

“That was so fun,” Haley said, adding, “Heavy sarcasm there. The beginning was really scary. I didn’t know how it would be treated, and I didn’t know if it had spread. I was terrified.”

Around this time, Haley’s true colors surfaced.

She goes to school with a student named Kevin Crutchfield, whose older sister, Eileen, is a sophomore at Plymouth State University.

Eileen also found a lump, behind her left ear, then learned the tumor was benign. By then, Haley knew she had cancer.

Eileen had heard about Haley through her brother. She wanted to reach out, but something held her back.

“I felt guilty that Haley had cancer and I didn’t,” Eileen said.

So Haley got Eileen’s number from Kevin and texted her. The message read something like this: “I’m really happy for you that you’re okay. There’s no reason to feel guilty.”

“To me, that was so amazing,” Eileen said. “I don’t know if I would have been able to do that.”

Since then, testing has showed the cancer has not spread to Haley’s lymph nodes. She has missed weeks of school and says she misses her friends.

She says she’s “really excited and a little overwhelmed,” over next month’s Wizards game. “But I think it will be an amazing experience,” she added.

Meanwhile, her stepfather, her biological father and her best friend’s father have all shaved their heads.

“Anything for Haley,” Steve Chase said.

“It meant a lot to me,” Haley said. “I teared up when they did that.”

Her treatment extends into next month. Then she’ll be tested every three months to make sure the cancer is gone.

As for that part about changes in Haley’s personality, we can only wonder how much further she’ll grow once her treatment finishes and her life regains some normalcy.

She’s not completely there, however. Not yet.

She has felt the stares from strangers, especially during the two times she ventured out without covering her head, once for breakfast, another time for church.

“The hardest thing,” Haley says, “is being bald.”

But even with the loss of her hair and her past shy ways, she welcomed me into her home this weekend, opening a door, once closed, and allowing us a peek inside.

“(Cancer) helps shape who you are,” Haley said. “You never think that’s the way it’s going to be until you’re going through it. I just started to figure out who I am.

“And I like it.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Not sure how you can help Haley? Go to www.gofundme.com/574mro and make a contribution. Every little bit helps. This is one of the most gracious, loving, kind, and selfless families I know. Pay. It. Forward. You will blessed... believe me. Love you, Haley!

Thank you for sharing the strength and wisdom of this beautiful young woman.

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