Cancer can't stop me! 16-year-old Calabar boy back at school after two-year battle with brain tumour
That resolve of quiet confidence oozed from 16-year-old Calabar High student, Cornel Grant, as he received a hero's welcome from schoolmates and teachers yesterday on his first day back after a bruising battle with an aggressive brain tumour.
Breaking out in smiles as he shared his story of triumph with The Gleaner at the Red Hills Road, St Andrew, school, said he was living proof of the power of hope and determination despite "complication after complication".
"I don't remember how many surgeries I did, but it was a lot. One of the times I came out of hospital and took back sick. They rushed me to hospital and after hours on hours, I came out and was in the Intensive Care Unit, where I was given a breathing tube.
"... I would gasp as if taking my last breath. My family told me to believe in God and I listened. I have faith," a confident Grant explained.
Grant told The Gleaner that alarm bells were set off two years ago when he originally entered grade nine, as he endured spells of vomiting and "crazy, crazy headaches".
"I couldn't eat anything," he said.
After being plied with antibiotics in a series of misdiagnoses, ranging from sinusitis to gastro-enteritis, Cornel and his mom, Ann Marie Benjamin, received the chilling news that he had a tumour.
On his rapturous return yesterday morning, Cornel poured out gratitude for his family, schoolmates, and the wider Calabar family, but he had special praise for grade nine coordinator, Rosie Kelly-Jones, who marshalled support to fund medical intervention.
"She was a big influence on me. She would stay and talk with me for hours on hours. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be back at school," the teenager said, sharing that the tumour had shrunk and that his condition was stable.
Kelly-Jones pounded the corridors block after block enlisting support from students and others in her determination that cancer would not win.
"When we found out he was ill, his mother never had the money. We started an initiative among the grade nine students. The principal said whatever we collected, he would match it. We collected $40,000," she said.
The fundraising venture mushroomed when every grade nine class was given a coin pan - every mickle mek a muckle - eventually collecting more than $100,000. Moved by the effort, the principal himself went home and brought back a jug filled with coins to add to the effort. That small act amassed another $30,000.
Parents also chipped in, some giving up to $50 000 each.
But beyond the monetary assistance, Cornel was cheered up during visits by friends and former classmates bearing gifts and words of inspiration.
"The last time I checked with him at home, his mother told me she wants him back at school, and here were are today. He was placed in grade nine again because he has to complete the ninth-grade programme. Everybody is happy to see him," said Kelly-Jones, sharing that several teachers cried at his re-emergence yesterday.
Grant's mother told The Gleaner that she was happy with her son's development and credit God's help for his turnaround.
"At one point, he couldn't even walk. I could have lost him. He has been through a lot," she said.