Chris DeRogatis is a junior at Central High School. He reads every book they put in front of him, and has already scored a 27 on the ACT. On Valentines Day, he and his family got some bad news. Five days earlier, he had discovered a swollen lymph node. He hoped it would go away, but it didn't. After tests and surgery, he and his family got the diagnosis: cancer.
He has Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma. It is a rare Non-Hodgkins form of Lymphoma. Within days, he learned his cancer is Stage 3. He has started chemotherapy, which is scheduled for six months, depending on how he responds to treatment. John Daum, an English and philosophy teacher will provide homebound teaching for Chris. "I'm honored to do it," Mr. Daum said. "Here's this young man facing the fight of his life, and you know what he's worried about? His diploma. He wants to graduate on schedule, or early if he can. And he's smart enough to do it, if he has the energy."
On top of everything else, Chris realized that one of chemo's side effects is hair loss. At first, he resisted shaving his head. "I'm just going to let it fall out," he said. "You can call me Patches." Mr. Daum wouldn't hear of it. "I'll tell you what," he said. "You shave your head, and I'll shave mine. We'll do it in front of the whole class."
Thus, the Central High Shaving Party began. Chris's friends, his teachers, the school resource officer, even kids he doesn't even know have sat in the makeshift barber's chair.
Two days later, on Thursday February 20, the Shaving Party buzzed on at Central, minus the guest of honor. That was the day Chris endured his first full day of treatments, the first of many. The PET scan showed that he also had cancer under both armpits, in the left iliac crest – with chains to pelvis, left inguinal area, and a hot spot on the right groin.
He's had bone marrow biopsies, a lumbar puncture, and Hickman catheter/port inserted for his chemo treatment.
He is spending several days at TC Thompson Childrens Hospital. If he feels like coming home for a day or two, then he will have to be readmitted in a couple of days. It's the beginning of an aggressive six-month chemo cycle. In the hospital for five days, and then home for a brief stay.
Some Central students are staging a benefit concert March 14th at 6 pm at the Cadence Coffee Company in Patten Parkway in Chattanooga. Others are starting a hat drive, because their friend Chris is likely to wear plenty of hats in the days to come. Mr. Daum knows what his star student really likes: books.
Chris reads books in many formats. Old-school books and Nook books. So Mr. Daum is making sure there are plenty of Barnes & Noble gift cards.
Principal Finley King watched as students lined up for haircuts, and said, "High school isn't just about the diploma, it's a lot more than that. These kids have learned a lot about life, and how precious it is. It's been a one-week crash course. And now they're teaching us grown-ups that we're in good hands. I couldn't be prouder of them."
For more on David Carroll's personal observations of the Central High shaving party, go to http://www.chattanoogaradiotv.com/general/central-high-schools-shaving-party/