When Halle Glasser learned that she would have to shave her head for chemotherapy, she first thought of how she could help someone else in a similar position.
The Skyline junior, 16, decided to donate all 26 inches of her hair to Locks of Love to help out someone in need, even though she now fit in that same category after being diagnosed with poorly differentiated large cell neuroendocrine thymic carcinoma, an incredibly rare cancer that generally yields a poor prognosis.
“My hair, it meant a lot to me but I’m fine with going without hair and I know there’s someone out there who isn’t, so if I can help them, it feels good,” Glasser said.
That’s the kind of spirit that has always defined Glasser, even when she first heard the devastating news of her diagnosis at the beginning of November. After playing a full season of volleyball and complaining about shortness of breath and a persistent cough throughout it, she and her family finally visited the doctor, thinking she’d be diagnosed with asthma.
The news they got was much worse.
Instead, the doctors found a tumor the size of a cantaloupe that was pressing against her heart and lungs and was collapsing one of her lungs. They found tumors in her skull, liver and spleen as well and immediately got her in touch with the Make a Wish Foundation.
Thymic tumors present in about 1.5 cases per 1 million people in the United States every year. According to the Journal of Medical Case Reports, “The majority of thymic NETs are carcinoid tumors, high-grade tumors are not encountered as often. LCNECs account for 14 to 26% of all NETs of the thymus with a median age at presentation around 50 years.” Little is known about poorly differentiated large cell neuroendocrine thymic carcinoma because it is so rare.
Her case has garnered the attention of the National Institutes of Health, who want to study her case further.
“They hope to have her come out in the spring sometime since nobody has this cancer at this age,” her father Jon said. “The way they explained it to me was that it was a cancer that a 40- or 50-year-old male would get after getting cancer once before in a different part of their body. They couldn’t believe she had this.”
After just a few rounds of chemo, that cantaloupe has shrunken to the size of an avocado.
From the day of her diagnosis, Halle has handled the adversity with humor and grace. She’s served as a symbol of strength for her Skyline community with every smile, every joke that she throws someone’s way. Two of her friends, juniors Kaiden Box and Erik West, shaved their heads alongside her as a sign of solidarity.
They didn’t even question it. They knew she would do it for them.
“She’s an amazing person and being around her just brightens everyone’s day,” West said. “Having her in my life has really made a difference. She is one of the funniest people I have ever met. She has an amazing sense of humor and she’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
The community, for its part, has rallied around her. Throughout the past couple of months, teachers have donated countless meals and her friends have offered whatever she may need, even if it’s a McFlurry at midnight. A donation site that was set up to help her family pay for chemo has topped $21,000.
Halle has found ways to stay positive through it all, as she makes a point to keep up with her studies and go out to support the basketball team she normally would have been playing on. Skyline has found inspiration through her struggles as she continues to serve as a beacon of light through a tough year, during which the community also lost senior Savion Lowe, who died unexpectedly at 17 in September.
“She’s been a big symbol of strength,” Box said. “I think everyone at this school knows her because she’s going through chemo every week and still trying her hardest to get out with friends and come to school. It just shows everyone that she’s still here and that she wants to be a part of the community.”
It’s the best community the Glassers can be a part of at a time like this.