Will power

STALLINGS – People from the Chestnut Oaks community and Antioch Elementary School are rallying to support one of their own – Will Henely, a 7-year-old boy recently diagnosed with cancer.

Community members are organizing a Walk with Will 5K/Fun Run in Will’s honor. The event is slated for Oct. 12, a Saturday, beginning with registration and sign-in at 8 a.m. and the race at 9 a.m. Proceeds from the event will help Will and his family pay for treatments and other related costs.

Two weeks after Will celebrated his seventh birthday, he began complaining of stomach aches and was treated for what his doctors believed to be a stomach virus. When the symptoms lasted longer than expected, Will’s pediatrician ordered a CT scan, which showed Will has Burkett’s lymphoma – a cancer that’s “treatable and curable,” despite the fact that it develops quickly.

Will began chemotherapy treatments in July, immediately following his diagnosis.

“If you’ve got a child with a diagnosis of lymphoma, (the doctors) don’t send you home to think about it; you start (treatments) right then,” said Laura Leo, one of the organizers for Walk with Will.

Will is currently on his fourth round of chemotherapy treatments. He has two more rounds scheduled and should complete his treatments by Thanksgiving, Leo said. Although Will’s prognosis has stayed positive, the treatments haven’t been easy.

“He’s doing as well as can be expected,” Leo said. “Yes, it’s a treatable form of cancer, but when you think about what a child has to go through to get treated, it’s a lot.”

Leo said Will’s parents, Matt and Tracy, have done a good job at making the experience more bearable. Every time Will completes a treatment-related task – taking “yucky-tasting” medicine, getting injections and having blood drawn – he gets rewarded. He’s done such a good job, Leo said, that he saved up enough reward money and bought a battery-powered motorcycle he can ride around his
neighborhood.

“He’s a normal boy. He’s active,” Leo said, though she added Will’s treatments have decreased his ability to stay as active as he normally was prior to his diagnosis.

Because the Henely family is a “pretty active family,” Leo and other organizers thought it would be appropriate to organize a 5K in Will’s honor. April and Thomas Garcia, owners of Kids ‘R’ Kids Learning Academy in Stallings, had organized a 5K in the past and wanted to help.

“They did this before and said it’s not too big of a deal (to organize), but there’s a lot (of work) leading up to it,” Leo said, adding the Garcias have been vital in helping “Team Will” cover all its bases regarding permits, police involvement and channeling the money collected from the 5K.

Organizers have set a $7,000 goal for the event. Leo said about 100 people have signed up to participate so far, and she expects to see many more sign-ups between now and the event. Many participants are residents of Chestnut Oaks – the Stallings community where the Henely family lives – and Will’s first-grade class at Antioch Elementary is putting a team together to walk in Will’s honor.

The route is still being finalized, but Leo said it will begin at Kids ‘R’ Kids and weave through the Chestnut Oaks subdivision and pass by Will’s house.

“If Will is not feeling well on the day (of the 5K), at least he could see us outside his window,” she said. “So we can all do something when we walk past.”

Aside from supporting Will and his family, Leo said she hopes the 5K can bring the community together in a way she believes is rare these days.

“It’s unfortunate that it takes something like this to bring the community together,” she said. “But I know (Will’s family) has felt an outpouring of support from people they don’t even know. It brings out the best in people.”

Find more information and register online at www.teamwillfighters.wix.com/henelyhelpers2013.

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