LAKE IN THE HILLS – Carly Haniszewski had to fight back tears Thursday as she pushed her daughter, Teagan, in a wheelchair through a swarm of middle-schoolers along the track at Marlowe Middle School.
The show of support was gratifying for the Haniszewskis after Teagan, 7, spent the past five years successfully battling pediatric brain cancer that went into remission last year.
The arduous fight has forced Teagan to learn speech again, and it likely means she will be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She goes through speech, physical and occupational therapy daily, but Thursday, Teagan was happy to be the center of attention.
“Marlowe Middle School has been amazing with everything that we are doing,” Carly Haniszewski said. “The support from the families and the kids, I love seeing. There is a lot of love in this room.”
Carly and Teagan Haniszewski helped more than 400 Marlowe students and staff members kick off their 24-hour walkathon event intended to raise money for the Haniszewskis’ Opening Doors With Teagan foundation.
Founded last year, Opening Doors With Teagan strives to provide financial support for families affected by pediatric cancer. The foundation offers assistance to help families with rehab, therapy and other post-hospital costs that insurance typically doesn’t cover.
Carly and Teagan Haniszewski led the ceremonious first lap of the event, which has students and teachers walking in teams around the Marlowe track and gym from Thursday to Friday afternoon.
The physically demanding event is just one way Marlowe students have shown their dedication to helping Teagan, a first-grader at District 158’s Chesak Elementary, said project organizer Rita Castans, who also teaches physical education at Marlowe.
The walkathon event marked a yearlong effort by Marlowe teachers and students to raise money for the startup foundation.
“Opening Doors with Teagen is a fantastic foundation that helps local kids, local families who have survived pediatric cancer,” Castans said. “We wanted our kids to start learning how to help other kids.”
The Marlowe community service project has netted Opening Doors With Teagen more than $15,000. Aside from walking for 24 consecutive hours, students had to ask parents and community members for donations.
Students at the District 158 middle school also challenged each other in a “penny war” earlier in the year that helped generate an initial $3,100 for the foundation.
Before taking the first lap Thursday, Carly Haniszewski said the support from Marlowe and others in the community has been invaluable for a family that often prepared many times to say goodbye to Teagen during her five-year battle with brain cancer.
“It’s emotional for me because I am excited that she is still here to do [a lap], but I’m proud of her,” Carly Haniszewski said. “She’s come a long way, and she has fought very hard to be where she is at.”