Drain girl with cancer gets large outpouring of support from community
Six-year-old Syra Gonzalez, a kindergarten student at North Douglas Elementary School in Drain, was diagnosed with a brain tumor right before Thanksgiving on Nov. 20.
She underwent surgery to remove the tumor the next day, and it was only one of a string of challenges that she and her mother have had to endure.
Although the operation initially appeared to be successful, test results revealed that Syra had a rare brain and spinal cancer. Because of that, she has gone through extended radiation treatments at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.
“They did the pathology testing on it, and the results came back positive for a very aggressive cancer,” Syra’s mother, Danielle Barklow, said. “She’ll have to do the radiation treatments for six weeks.”
Barklow is a single mother, unemployed, was homeless through the summer and has been staying with a friend in the Drain area. Just a couple of days after Syra’s surgery, a shed where all of their belongings were being stored, burned down and destroyed everything they had.
“That’s when everybody just started rallying to help them out,” said Emily Reed, the leadership advisor at North Douglas Elementary and Middle School in Drain. “This community has really stepped up for how small it is.”
The ordeal caught the attention of not only the kids in the school, but also the community and beyond.
“I think we all felt that it’s just really an unfair thing to have happen to someone who was already at a disadvantage,” Reed said.
Reed said there were contributions received from Yoncalla, Elkton, Cottage Grove and even people who had formerly lived in Drain.
“We had someone from Chicago who wanted to donate his wedding funds, because he’d gone to school in Drain and it really bothered him that this could happen to such a young girl,” Reed said.
The kids in the school brought in money from their piggy banks or money that they had collected from their parents or earned for themselves. The school sent flyers home with all the students and put jars in each of the classrooms.
Syra’s schoolmates, who were hit hard by the news, rallied to do fundraisers to help the family with expenses.
Donations started pouring in, from the small amounts put in the jars to the bigger amounts that students, parents and local community members and businesses brought in. People also donated clothes and toys for Syra, who had nothing left after the fire.
Yoncalla High School collected money at their band concert and brought in $744. One parent who works at Walmart took the flyer to the store and collected $2,500 in donations. Store officials also presented them with a jar of change and bills the employees collected, which was about $300.
The coin jars at the school brought in over $1,300. The total that school and community have raised is over $10,000.
“The middle school leadership group is the one that started raising the money, and we think it’s pretty impressive how much we’ve earned in just two weeks,” said Shelly Harkins, the office manager at North Douglas Elementary and Middle School.
The school also mailed boxes of Christmas cards and packages to the hospital, that the students made for Syra.
Syra and her mom have been staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Portland while she is getting her treatments at Doernbecher.
Barklow said she was stunned by the outpouring of the community, from people that they didn’t even know.
“It’s incredible, I’m speechless about it, I don’t even know how to thank everybody,” Barklow said. “The kids love her, and Syra misses school so much and can’t wait to go back. She’s gotten over 200 Christmas cards from them.”
Syra has a tough road ahead. Gonzalez said she will need regular MRIs for the rest of her life, and there is only a 20 percent chance that the cancer will not come back.
“We hope that this helps any way it can in a real hard time,” Reed said. “We’re just really thankful to our community.”
“We’re all just hoping that they get through this and Syra will be OK,” Harkins said. “Hopefully they can then use some of the money to get a place to live and move forward.”