Clifton Hunter High School student Derron Hernandez was overcome with emotion Friday as he witnessed his schoolmates and teachers shave their heads in solidarity with him as he battles cancer.
“Thank you for all the support that you’ve given, it just has helped me to look forward to coming back home knowing that so much people support me,” Hernandez said via Zoom as he addressed at the special head shave event at the school.
The initiative, spearheaded by PE teacher Ricardo Hayles and deputy principal Steven Clark, raised $9,500 in three weeks to help the 13-year-old and his family with medical bills and other expenses.
Clark and Hayles were among the 17 shaving their heads for Hernandez Friday.
Clark said he was overwhelmed by the generosity and the camaraderie he saw from the students and the administrative staff.
“I think to hear from Derron that it gave him hope and confidence in the future and also acknowledging the other students in their actions that they’ve done and also his mom recognising the support via the fundraising – I think it was the perfect end to what’s been an excellent three weeks of fundraising,” Clark said.
Earlier this year Hernandez was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma cancer after a mass was found in his neck that had partially paralysed him.
Last week the Cayman Compass highlighted Hernandez’s story. Clark said through that spotlight, support for the initiative was increased and even Cabinet members, including Premier Alden McLaughlin, and government offices chipped in to help.
The teen is currently in the US receiving treatment for the cancer at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland. Doctors surgically removed the cancerous mass, but he is still receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Hernandez was determined to walk again and through therapy he has made progress in his mobility.
The head shave event was held in the school hall with a small crowd and was broadcast to classrooms through Zoom. Hernandez said what was touching to him was knowing that even though some of them did not know him they gave up their hair and raised funds.
“I really appreciate everything because it just helps me to keep strong this time,” he said.
Five students from Hernandez’s former school, Edna M. Moyle Primary School, also gave up their locks.
Ten-year-old Cameron McLean was among those students.
“Derron was a past student of Edna Moyle Primary School and when I used to misbehave a lot he helped me through a lot and this is for him. I did not hesitate to shave my head for him, because he is one of us and part of our family and family help each other out. I am willing to do anything for Derron Hernandez. He is a one-of-a-kind student,” McLean said.
Chad Powell Jr., Hernandez’s schoolmate at Clifton Hunter, said he was proud to be a part of the initiative.
“Normally when you think of cancer, it’s like old people, but it is important to know that it affects children as well. It’s actually worse on them because they have their whole life to go through and losing your hair as a child can be a lot, specially if you’re like a girl or a guy with long locks,” he said.
After he shaved off his hair, Powell passed his hand over his bald head in amazement. He said had no regrets.
“I’m used to running my [hand] through my hair, like pretty much every five seconds. And I know washing my hair tonight is going to be so much shorter. I actually take like 10 minutes to wash and scrub everything and now I’m not sure I’m going to need to buy as much shampoo,” he said, laughing.
The event was also supported by the Lions Club of Grand Cayman which donated $1,000 and provided complimentary haircuts through members Gary Franklin and Brian Barnes. Hair stylist Valerie Morgan and barber Qwame Christie also volunteered at the event.
Four female students will be cutting their hair Saturday in solidarity with Hernandez.