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Silas Walker, KSL

Cancer hits home at Copper Hills High community

By Lauren Bennett, KSL | Posted - Mar 19th, 2019 @ 8:03am


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WEST JORDAN — Megan Butler, a physical education teacher at Copper Hills High School, started off 2019 with shocking news — her husband had been diagnosed with cancer.

Then came better news — he had been misdiagnosed and didn't actually have cancer, what Butler called a miracle. But that wasn't the end of the couple's run-in with the deadly disease. Butler was diagnosed with breast cancer in mid-January.

She's since had to have open-heart surgery to remove a noncancerous tumor and will start chemotherapy Tuesday.

"That's the scariest part is just the unknown, because you don't know how it's going to react," she said.

Butler and 17 other faculty members, students and community members all shaved their heads Monday as part of the high school's “Grizzlies Against Cancer” event, a fundraiser for children's cancer research. The hair will go toward making a wig for Butler.

"It's kind of empowering in the fact that I'm going to lose it anyway, but it won't come out in chunks," she said of shaving her head. "I've had a lot of support."

The fundraiser began earlier this year, with hopes to raise $2,000 for St. Baldrick's Foundation, a national charity organization that holds "Brave the Shave" events across the country.

The Grizzlies doubled its goal, instead, raising $4,280.63.

Cameron Vongsawad, a physics teacher and track coach at Copper Hills High School reacts as barber Kami Stevenson shows him a chunk of his hair the school in West Jordan on Monday, March 18, 2019. Members of the National Honor Society started a fundraising campaign called “Grizzlies Against Cancer,” hoping to raise several thousand dollars for the St. Baldrick's Foundation. (Photo: Silas Walker, KSL)

Tragedy struck the school over the weekend when beloved English teacher Michelle Szetela died suddenly of stage 4 adrenal cancer. Szetela was diagnosed March 11 and died just six days later in the hospital surrounded by loved ones, according to a school administrator.

Other teachers said Szetela was the first to volunteer to shave her head for the cause and was actively involved in raising funds. Another teacher shaved his head in her place Monday at the assembly.

Tyler Carson, vice president of the school's National Honor Society chapter, said one reason he was shaving his head was for Szetela.

"Many of us are grieving," said Carson, 18-year-old senior at the school. "She inspired many people. She was just a great person. She will definitely be missed greatly."

Both of his grandmothers and his aunt have had breast cancer — another driving reason behind his decision to shave.

"I'm willing to give up something that I can grow back for something that will impact someone's life forever," he said.

Teachers from Copper Hills High School have their heads shaved as part of a fundraiser for the St. Baldrick's Foundation at the school in West Jordan on Monday, March 18, 2019. Members of the National Honor Society started a fundraising campaign called “Grizzlies Against Cancer,” hoping to raise several thousand dollars for the foundation. (Photo: Silas Walker, KSL)

The school's prom was held over the weekend and Carson said his family teased him about getting an "expensive haircut" for the dance, just to shave it off two days later.

Butler doesn't have personal experience with childhood cancer but has a lot of experience with adult cancer.

"Cancer sucks," she said.

Her sister, who died 13 years ago from breast cancer, would have been 63 years old Monday.

She said events like "Brave to Shave" are important because they help bring awareness to the issue and inspire people to help.

"To get people aware and outside of themselves," she said. "People will sometimes hear those stories and decide to act, decide to just do a little bit."

Destry Downs, Butler's niece, attended the event in support of her aunt. Downs' father was diagnosed with cancer when she was in high school and she shaved her head for a cancer fundraiser and in support of her dad. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer one year later.

"Cancer is such a horrible thing to go through but I think it really unifies the community of people you have around you and it was nice to be able to support the family," she said of shaving heads. "Hair grows — I think so many times we attach our identity to our looks, which is not something we need to do, and I think losing your hair is OK because hair grows."

Physical education teacher Megan Butler takes a photo of physics teacher and track coach Cameron Vongsawad getting his hair cut as part of a fundraiser for the St. Baldrick's Foundation at Copper Hills High School in West Jordan on Monday, March 18, 2019. (Photo: Silas Walker, KSL)

Supporting childhood cancer research is important, she added.

"They deserve the funding and all the resources they can get to be able to combat the disease," Downs said.

"Childhood cancer is probably one of the saddest things to see little kids going through — not understanding why that's happening to them," Butler added.

A lot of people at the school had been personally impacted by the disease in some way.

"Cancer sucks and sometimes it can feel really lonely — friends and family don't always know what to say and so they don't say anything, and this is our way of showing them we're here even if we don't know what to say," said Shasta Burton, English teacher at the school and organizer of the event.

Burton said her family participates in the event every year to honor her cousin who was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was 7 years old. Her cousin wanted to participate in a head shaving event but died before she got the chance.

"So my entire family tries to fulfill her wish to end childhood cancer by participating every year," Burton said.

The school invited parents, siblings and families who had been impacted by cancer to come and be honored at the event.

Burton said she was proud to shave her head.

"I'm excited to be able to show people my support of them," she said. "And to not have to do my hair for a while."

Teachers from Copper Hills High School poses for a photo after having their heads shaved as part of a fundraiser for the St. Baldrick's Foundation at the school in West Jordan on Monday, March 18, 2019. Members of the National Honor Society started a fundraising campaign called “Grizzlies Against Cancer,” hoping to raise several thousand dollars for the foundation. (Photo: Silas Walker, KSL)

Since 2005, the foundation has raised $258 million in research grant funding, according to its website.

"Well they need all the money they can get," said Don Moore, a barber coordinator with the foundation and hair salon owner from Ogden. "We need to … get the cure for cancer going as quickly as possible and they need money to do that."

This was Moore's fourth "Brave the Shave" event and he said he was happy to see growing involvement in the foundation's mission.

Cameron Vongsawad, AP physics and astronomy teacher, sported long hair that went past his chest.

"I was properly mer-manning it," he quipped. "I had great hair so why not donate it to somebody else."

When he learned of Butler's diagnosis he said he wanted to give her his hair.

"It's all yours," he recalled telling her. "That's an easy decision, when you care about someone and when you recognize that everyone's been affected closely by cancer — it's a no-brainer."

He cut his hair off during the assembly right before Butler shaved hers.

"We got to figure out how to handle this cancer thing better," he said.

Photos

Lauren Bennett

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