High school students create club to support those battling cancer

CORNELIUS, N.C. — On Wednesday, Channel 9 celebrated PINK DAY to bring awareness to breast cancer.

We have been sharing stories of hope and resilience in partnership with the American Cancer Society.

Channel 9 reporter Elsa Gillis visited a local high school where students and staff are lifting one another up during the difficult journey of being diagnosed with cancer.

“My plan was never to tell them that I had cancer because I didn’t think that; I just thought it was personal. And I thought they were not going to understand. This is an adult problem,” said Carie D’Hondt, a math teacher at William Amos Hough High School.

However, D’Hondt said she quickly learned, after sharing her breast cancer diagnosis, that she was wrong.

“When I told them I was leaving, so many of my students cried or asked if they could stay after and share their stories with me because they had been through this with their mom or their grandmother. And other types of cancer, obviously, had affected their family,” D’Hondt explained.

D’Hondt said when she returned to the school after treatment, the support for her and the conversations surrounding cancer did not stop.

She said two of her students approached her about starting “Hough Stands Against Cancer.”

“They graduated in 2021. And I gave them my word that I would grow this club,” D’Hondt said.

And grow it, she did. What started with 17 members has now grown to 130.

Mackenzie Johnson, the president of the club, said she was inspired to join by her grandmother’s fight against breast cancer.

“We just love creating awareness, helping with fundraising, and helping those who are struggling with cancer,” Johnson explained.

“It’s knowing that these kids come to school every day. And they might have someone at home who is battling cancer. And they don’t think their friends understand. And they don’t think that their teachers care, or they might not think that someone can relate to them,” said D’Hondt. “So just having other people at school that they can talk to and that they know have been through it It means everything.”

D’Hondt said the club is not only to help students. The vice principal of the school is currently facing her own battle with cancer, so the club organized a pink-out game to honor her. The club is also organizing a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

“It’s just really impactful on how many students struggle with this, know someone that went through this, and how many people have a story to share, which is horrible, but I feel like that’s what also gives people faith and the strength that they need to continue to battle if they feel like they’re not alone,” Johnson said.

D’Hondt is proud to announce she is now a breast cancer survivor.

She said the club has raised around $7,000 since it was founded in 2019.

It has organized and participated in a handful of events in and out of the school to support all cancer diagnoses, with more to come.

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