Dozens of Queen Creek Elementary preschoolers to fifth-graders, staff and family members have shaved their heads or dyed their hair wild colors to show support for a popular student undergoing chemotherapy.
Dustin Hannabach, an energetic 9-year-old fourth-grader, was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer in January after doctors discovered a tumor on his left femur.
Normally healthy and active, Dustin complained of a pain in his leg and his parents noticed he was limping. What was originally thought to be growing pains or a soccer injury turned out to be osteosarcoma. It was a "super shocker" to the family, said Dustin's dad, Jake Hannabach, who owns the Lil' Auto Repair shop in Queen Creek.
Since Dustin's diagnosis, he has been in and out of Phoenix Children's Hospital for weeklong stays, undergoing chemotherapy treatments to fight his aggressive, but curable, form of cancer. Dustin started chemotherapy to shrink the tumor the day after he was diagnosed.
"Everything's happened really quick," said Jake Hannabach, who also shaved his head along with Dustin's older brother, Tim, a sophomore at Queen Creek High School. "We're still getting used to the idea of it."
Luckily, Dustin's cancer has not spread, and doctors believe he will be better after a year of chemotherapy. Dustin will also have to undergo femur and hip replacement surgery, Jake Hannabach said.
Because doctors put a hole through his bone for the biopsy, Dustin has to stay off his leg until the surgery so he doesn't break it. He uses a wheelchair to get around. However, Dustin is already a pro at doing wheelies. On Friday, he delighted his classmates by showing off his skills in his yellow wheelchair.
When he's feeling good, Dustin comes to school to visit with his classmates. He wears a doctor's mask over his mouth and nose to protect himself from germs. His teacher, Jen McDonald, comes to Dustin's house four hours a week so Dustin won't fall behind.
"He is spunky and full of life, and he always has a smile on his face," McDonald said. "He always has a great attitude."
The idea for the shaved heads and wacky colors was born after Dustin told everyone he was going to lose his hair.
"It was pretty nice," Dustin said. "It makes it easier."
More than a dozen friends in Dustin's class shaved their heads, including his best friend since kindergarten, Trenton Hatch. Trenton shaved his head two weeks ago during the school's Spring Fling carnival, when many members of the community paid $5 to get their heads shaved or hair colored for Dustin.
"I wanted to support him and raise money for him," said Trenton, who turns 10 Saturday. "He's funny, and we always play soccer together. He can still play soccer in his wheelchair."
Caden Williams said she colored her hair pink to help him get better.
"I want him to come back to school because a lot of people miss him," said Caden, 9. "He just wants to come back and be a regular kid."
While most of the girls colored their hair, 9-year-old Jessica Baggs shaved off her long, brown hair Thursday and plans to donate it to Locks of Love.
"I did this for Dustin because he's a nice kid and because he was losing his hair," said Jessica, who wore a fancy scarf Friday and showed off her new do with a model pose. Her hair used to fall to the middle of her back.
Principal Sheri Horton went one step further and put in permanent hair color. Horton told Dustin he even gets to choose the color. Horton had green highlights for three weeks, and Thursday changed the "frog" color to hot pink highlights. Dustin hinted he wants rainbow colors next.
"We will continue to do what we need to do," Horton said. "All of the kids love him for his personality. His approach has been so positive. He's just an awesome kid."
Several fundraisers have collected more than $3,000 to help the family with expenses. A collection jar in the front office, dubbed Dollars for Dustin, is available for anyone who wants to donate. Queen Creek Elementary School is at 23636 S. 204th St., off Chandler Heights Road.
A Wells Fargo bank account under Dustin Hannabach's name has also been set up.
"There's been a lot of support from the school," said Jake Hannabach, who takes turns with his wife, Jacey Hannabach, to be with Dustin in the hospital. "It's been pretty amazing."