When four Columbus East High School students learned their good friend Chaleece Leckron was diagnosed with lymphoma, they were ready to show their support in any way they could.
The girls were even willing to shave their heads.
Leckron, 16, assured the girls that their friendship meant more than such a drastic measure.
Instead, each of the friends had between eight and 11 inches of their blond and brunette locks cut to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths. The program partners with the American Cancer Society to give free, real-hair wigs to women fighting cancer.
“Cutting their hair — that meant the world to her,” said Kim Leckron, Chaleece’s mother.
Leckron found herself in need of a wig this summer after losing her bright, red tresses while going through chemotherapy at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. She is being treated for lymphoma, a type of cancer that attacks cells in the lymph nodes.
Christina Hetisimer, 16; Olivia Frownfelter, 16; and Emmery Doty, 15 — have been friends with Leckron for more than 10 years. The fourth who cut her hair, Casey Begner, 16, joined the circle when the girls were freshmen in high school.
The girls also researched having a custom wig made out of their hair but found the cost would be prohibitive.
The Pantene program appealed to them because it provided wigs for free to cancer patients. It also was a tangible way for the girls to help people going through similar situations.
“We wanted to do something to show her our support,” said Doty, who had 8 inches of her blond hair cut and is getting used to a new, shorter style with bangs.
‘Very, very, very close’
Tammy Frownfelter, Olivia Frownfelter’s mother and a hairdresser who cut the girls’ hair, said the bond between her daughter, Leckron, Hetisimer and Doty started in first grade at Clifty Creek Elementary School.
It began as the mothers got the girls together to play, then grew to cheerleading, dance teams, sleepovers, vacations, sports and shared birthday parties.
The four were cheerleaders for two years together at Clifty Creek and bonded so much that a teacher nicknamed them “The Fantastic Four.”
Even when they went in different directions with after-school activities, they still went to each other’s events and recitals.
“I can’t ever remember them having a harsh word between them,” Tammy Frownfelter said. “They were so blessed to have each other growing up.”
The girls are so close that they already are worried about going their separate ways for college.
“When we’re on vacation, we Skype and do Facetime,” Olivia Frownfelter said about the online video chatting.
“We’re more like sisters,” Hetisimer added.
“We’re very, very, very close,” Frownfelter said.
When they learned about Leckron’s lymphoma
diagnosis, the girls were devastated but knew immediately they would support Leckron every step of the way.
They also wanted to keep life as normal as possible. Even the hair cutting was turned into a party. Leckron, who wants to be a hairdresser one day, picked out the new hairstyles for her friends and was eager to help them with styling.
The friends’ frequent trips to the hospital to visit Leckron include catching up on what’s happening at home, manicures, laughing and even dancing.
Leckron was sad that she couldn’t attend the 4-H fair last week, so her friends brought her a souvenir cup and some cotton candy. They also enjoy bringing some of her favorite items: tacos, Sour Patch candy and sweet tea.
A new battle
The lymphoma battle is just the latest medical struggle for Leckron, who also had bacterial meningitis and histoplasmosis during the past four years.
She completed homebound schooling through Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. during her seventh- and eighth-grade years but went to Columbus East for her freshman and sophomore years.
The lymphoma took the family by surprise, since Leckron had been healthy recently and was active in dance and cheerleading. At first they thought she had an injury in her back or hip.
In May, Leckron was diagnosed with lymphoma, and she has spent much of her summer at Riley undergoing chemotherapy and being watched closely as she recovered from the side effects between treatments.
Dr. Catherine Long, an oncologist at Riley, said Leckron has diffuse large B cell lymphoma, which started in her pelvis area and spread through her abdomen.
Leckron receives chemotherapy treatments about once every three weeks for a week. How long this will go on depends on how she responds, but Long said Leckron probably has four to six more treatments to go.
“The chemotherapy is pretty intensive, but the lymphoma is aggressive, and it responds to the chemotherapy,” Long said. “It’s a lot of treatment to go through, but (the cancer) usually stays away.”
‘They are her medicine’
Kim Leckron said her daughter has missed out on a lot of activities this summer, but she’s had a great attitude and her friends have been wonderful.
“I tell them they have been amazing,” Kim Leckron sadi. “I tell them, they are her medicine.”
Although the Leckron family has health insurance, frequent trips to the Indianapolis hospital has included extra costs for gas, meals and other expenses.
Kim Leckron works with the English-as-a-second-language program at Clifty Creek, and Jim Leckron works at Overton Carbide Tool & Engineering in Franklin.
Leckron’s friends want to help the family ease as many of the worries as they can.
The girls arranged a fundraiser at Texas Roadhouse in June and plan to arrange more fundraisers this summer. They also have sold “Cheer for Chaleece” T-shirts.
Tammy Frownfelter said the girls have always believed that Leckron will win this battle, and they’ve learned what a remarkable strength and spirit she has.
“These girls are learning a lot from Chaleece. She always has a great attitude,” Tammy Frownfelter said.
The girls said they will do whatever they can do for her.
“It’s impossible not to love Chaleece,” Hetisimer said.