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Sacred Heart 7th graders support classmate with cancer by shaving their heads
shaving for AJ pic1
Sacred Heart School seventh grader Carlos Estacio gets his head shaved by teachers Elaine Magni and Tiffany Riddick on Friday in support of classmate Andrew Perez, who was diagnosed with cancer three weeks ago. - photo by CANDY PADILLA / The Journal

A group of 7th graders are sporting freshly shaved heads at Sacred Heart Catholic School, not as part of a new trend, but instead to show support for classmate Andrew "AJ" Perez, who was diagnosed with Hodgskin’s Lymphoma roughly three weeks ago.

Returning to his classroom on Friday for the first time since his diagnosis, Perez was pleasantly surprised by the sight of his friends’ hair being cut and shaved by teachers Tiffany Riddick and Elaine Magni as students and parents watched and cheered. It was the perfect early Christmas present for a kid who’s been without the company of his friends for nearly a month.

“I like how they’re supporting me by shaving their heads,” Perez said. “It makes me feel nice because I know that they’re going through this with me.”

“He was pretty determined to get here today to see his buddies before the holidays,” Perez’ mother, Theresa, said. “But he didn’t have any idea that they were going to do this today.”

Since discovering a lump on his chest that was later identified as a tumor, Perez has been stuck in the hospital receiving chemotherapy treatments. While the treatments have been less than fun, Perez has been affected most by the distance between him and his friends, many of whom have attended Sacred Heart with him since preschool. Sacred Heart has felt the same way with the parish and school showing support for Perez well before Friday’s haircuts by wearing purple accessories and specially made wristbands that read "Team AJ."

“I think it’s amazing,” Riddick said of the overall support. “We miss our classmate and we hope he fights through this and recovers and gets back as quick as he can.”

Still, for some of Perez’ classmates the support wasn’t enough.

“A student came to me and said, ‘We want to shave our heads,'” Riddick said. “We checked with all the parents to make sure that it was fine, then they kind of got together and decided they wanted to support their friend and their classmate and that’s where we’re at today.”

A total of six 7th grade boys signed up to lose their locks of hair on Friday. Beginning at 10:15 a.m., a tarp was rolled across the classroom carpet and a makeshift apron made out of a garbage bag was put on each student as they sat down in the middle of the room. The kids joked and laughed as their heads were shaved, taking pictures and video on phones and tablets, before Perez arrived midway through to join in on the laughing and joking.

“It’s overwhelming to see the support his class is giving him,” Theresa said.

“They tried to get me to. I said I’d support him in any other way, but sorry buddy I’m not going to shave my head,” Riddick said with a laugh.

With his short-lived reunion over, Perez now has Christmas and more treatment to look forward to. When he will be able to return to class full time is currently up in the air, but it’s something Perez is confident will happen.

“I know that I can beat this because I know a lot of people who have beaten cancer,” Perez said. “I know I can beat this, so bring it on.”