Heroes Come In All Sizes

Posted by Peggy Procter on 10/17/2018

Heroes Come In All Sizes


As adults, we speak of the importance of facing and overcoming difficulties as integral to growth and the development of character. Yet, we do what we can to avoid difficulty and struggle for ourselves and those around us. I have lived a happy and healthy life and done my best to embrace the obstacles that came my way—but boy, have I worked hard to avoid as many of them as possible. With age, I have gotten stronger and better at handling adversity and failure, but the path to openness and acceptance of struggle has not been one that I easily embraced.


About fifteen months ago, as I began my journey as Head of School at Echo Horizon, I met a vivacious rising first grader who was full of life and excitement to join our school. I learned that she had been out of school for quite some time while she battled cancer. Her hair had grown back when I met her and she looked so sturdy that I had trouble believing that she was sick. Her courageous parents knew that it was going to be hard for her to enter a new community and handle the demands of transitioning back to full-day school. But in their hearts, they knew she was ready and they knew she was strong enough to take on the challenges ahead.


It wasn’t easy. There were good days and bad days. Days when she didn’t want to leave her parents’ arms, knowing it would be easier to curl up at home. Days when she felt nauseous and weak. Days when her legs ached as she tried to keep up with her classmates as they walked the long hallways. Days when she sat on the bench as her friends played on the structures at the park. Recently, I thought to myself, “Did I ever doubt her parents’ decision to tackle school again?” I wish I could say no, but at times I ached as I watched her struggle and wished that she might be back at home, safe on the couch with a good book and her favorite doll. But her parents knew that she could do it, as they had watched her battle this disease valiantly for years. And deep down, she also knew that nothing could stop her from succeeding.  


Elysa and her parents embraced the struggle of her return to school. She returned to learn, and equally important, she returned to teach. She teaches us how to stand strong in the face of adversity and how to push forward through pain. She teaches us how to sit on the sidelines gracefully when she doesn’t have the strength and when to call it quits on days when she just needs to head home. As I learned through the wise words of research professor and bestselling author Brené Brown, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” Many of us won’t even show up if we don’t feel 100 percent, but Elysa keeps showing up day after day with full knowledge that she might have to call it quits in front of her peers and teachers. Some days, she shows up at school with braces or a scooter to make it from class to class. Showing vulnerability and struggle is as brave as showing strength.


And last but not least, Elysa also teaches us to savor life’s simple things, even in the face of the unknown. She stands by her Dodgers in good times and bad, loves drawing pictures for her friends, and enjoys afternoons at the park. Her sunny disposition and positive outlook make our community a happier place.  


Dear Elysa, we are overjoyed that your treatments are coming to an end and your good days of strength will be more and more frequent. You have fought so hard and taught us so much and no one deserves a respite from it all more than you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all that you have shared and given to our beautiful community during your battle with cancer. While the cancer may be gone at last, the lessons you have taught us will live in our hearts and minds forever.

“Life will throw all kinds of obstacles our way. It is our job to scramble over them and hunt for the little miracles tucked away, then leave some reminders for the people that follow behind us.”

-Emily Page


Click here to view a video of Elysa's journey, set to a song that her dad wrote!