Once a child becomes part of the Bel Air Elementary School community, it is hard to escape the school's reach.
Just ask second-grader Bryce Canfield.
Bryce was diagnosed in August with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer that affects children, and he has been unable to go to class since the first week of school.
However, the 7-year-old, who has attended Bel Air Elementary since pre-kindergarten, is still a big part of his school family.
Bryce's classmates send him tubs full of cards and letters. The school faculty contributed baked goods to a community fundraiser for him, and Bel Air is planning two more fundraisers of its own.
The school will hold a yard sale, "Cleaning Our Closets Out for Bryce," in February. The student council will sponsor a sports memorabilia sale, "Be a Fan for Bryce," and asks the students to wear their favorite team T-shirts in his honor.
"That school has really been just wonderful," said his mother, Melissa Canfield.
Bryce's teacher, Julie Batchelor, also goes to his house to tutor him three times a week as part of Columbia County's homebound program in which students who miss more than 10 days of school receive home instruction.
"It is an absolute pleasure working with that family and Bryce," Batchelor said. "I care about children, and he started the school year with me. And I wanted to provide as much continuity for him as I could."
Debbie Callan, Bryce's first-grade teacher, has taken board games to him on the weekends.
"They're a real special family, and we want him to know that we're thinking of him," Callan said.
Bryce, who must undergo 54 weeks of chemotherapy, has completed more than a dozen treatments already.
He will be hospitalized about once a month for some of his treatments, and Batchelor sends Bryce's notebook with him so his instructor at the Medical College of Georgia can continue his lessons.
Other than a chemotherapy port that has been implanted in his chest so his medications can be administered, Bryce seems like a typical, energetic 7-year-old boy. He adores Spider-Man. He misses seeing his friends, but he does not mind missing school.
"Aside from his hair thinning, you wouldn't know there was a problem," said his mother.
She said Bryce first felt sick in early July, but she and her husband, Shawn, were not overly concerned.
"We just thought it was a stomach bug," she said, and the symptoms passed after a couple of days.
However, he got sick again at the end of the month. At that time, he was complaining more and his stomach was swollen, his mother said. Once he was diagnosed in August, he was hospitalized for two weeks.
"After that I was thinking I would just zoom out of the hospital," Bryce said.
Canfield said her son is responding well to his treatments. The tumors in his stomach and leg have decreased in size, and the spots on his lungs have disappeared.
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