After students had cleared the school on a recent Monday afternoon, several dozen Forestville Road Elementary School teachers gathered in a hallway cheering and whooping for their peers.
First-grade teacher Jason Strickland and fourth-grade teacher Mike Hagadorn sat in chairs while barbers from TTB Barbershop in Wendell took a razor to their heads. Each swipe of the razor caused the crowd of teachers to laugh, cheer and snap more photos.
Their fellow teacher, Brandace Byrd, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in October. Since then, she has had two rounds of chemotherapy and most recently had to have her head shaved.
“That was probably the hardest part of all of this. It really was,” she said. “And they knew that, I shared that with my team.”
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So her fellow teachers decided to get in on the action, with six male staffers shaving in solidarity.
“I just found out today,” she said. Byrd gave the cuts to each of the men, with her peers laughingly encouraging her to leave them with a Mohawk or mullet.
“I think the hallmark of the school is that we’re family,” said Principal Dianne Pridgen. “The staff has rallied around Ms. Byrd...doing the little things that let her know that we love her and we know she’s going to get better.”
Byrd, 26, is one of the youngest teachers at Forestville Road. She had scheduled a regular physical appointment two months ago and her doctor had discovered a swollen lymph node.
The next day she had a biopsy, and a week later she had her first surgery.
“It’s gone really fast,” she said. She’s already had two surgeries and will have eight to 12 chemotherapy treatments in the coming months.
Byrd, who lives in Middlesex and has a 2-year-old daughter, has taught at the school for two years and will finish her Master’s from East Carolina University in May.
She said her fellow teachers have been extremely supportive, from helping her with lesson plans and giving her gift cards for meals to taking a love offering and hosting additional Christmas parties so that she could attend.
“We’re closer than just co-workers for sure,” Byrd said.
Her students have also rallied to her side.
The first day she showed up in her natural-looking brunette wig, the first one of her fourth graders to see her said, “Ms. Byrd, you look absolutely beautiful.”
Byrd smiled telling the story.
“That just made my day because that’s how anxious I was, when they see me for the first time,” she said.
They’ve written her cards, offered to carry things for her and their parents have sent along supportive notes.
“I’m definitely in the best place I can be for this to be happening. I’ve had so much support,” she said.