Appoquinimink High School teacher Brian Conley is facing a difficult road ahead.
The 40-year-old biology teacher has undergone surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and drug treatment since doctors discovered a malignant tumor in his brain in January.
Yet it's a journey he isn't making alone.
Students, faculty and staff at the high school are joining with Conley's friends and family to support the father of two by helping to raise awareness of brain cancer and collecting funds for new research.
"Mr. Conley is just one of those teachers who everyone loves and respects," said Brianna Barkus, an environmental science teacher, who has spearheaded the fundraising efforts at Appoquinimink High School. "After he told everyone about his diagnosis, we really wanted to show him how much we support him, while also giving the kids a chance to feel like they can actually do something."
On Monday morning, sophomores at the high school walked laps around the track in a show of solidarity with Conley, an avid runner who was known to jog up to 7 miles before each school day.
Seniors completed a similar walk on Wednesday, followed by juniors on Thursday and freshman on Friday.
"We just want Mr. Conley to understand we care," said 18-year-old junior Eliezer Oliveras, who described Conley as a fun teacher with great hair. "We want him to get better and see that we're doing these things out of respect for him."
During the last six weeks, Appoquinimink High School also has raised more than $2,700 in donations to the National Brain Tumor Society through collection jars, proceeds from a recent flag football fundraiser, alumni support and the sale of $10 "Conley's Crew" T-shirts.
Conley's Crew also is the name of a team of teachers, friends and well-wishers who will be taking part in a 2-mile Delaware Brian Tumor Walk at the Riverfront in Wilmington on April 27. A second team made up of Conley's family, friends and co-workers at Goldey-Beacom College in Wilmington, where he works as a cross-county track coach, will be participating in the walk under the name Team Conley.
In the week leading up to the walk, the school also will be selling $1 water ice treats under the name, Conley's Crushed Ice.
Conley's brother and sister-in-law, Kevin and Tina Conley, also are sponsoring the first-ever Cancer Sucks 5K at Silver Lake Park on April 14 to raise additional funds for the National Brain Tumor Society. Registration costs $10 and begins at 8 a.m., followed by a 9 a.m. start time.
Additionally, family and friends will be participating in the 20th annual Angels Among Us 5K and Family Walk fundraiser for the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center in Durham, N.C., where Conley is currently taking part in clinical drug trials.
Page 2 of 2 - A Newark High School graduate described by friends and co-workers as humble and modest, Conley declined to be interviewed for this article out of respect for the thousands of cancer victims who have not benefitted from the support he's received.
Instead, he provided the text of a recent post on his Facebook page, titled The Luckiest Unlucky Man.
"I am lucky because I know what it feels to be loved by more people than I can count," he wrote. "This is my journey. I could not have changed it, nor would have I wanted to trade this disease with anyone."
For more information about the National Brian Tumor Walk teams or to make a donation, visit the Conley's Crew or Team Conley pages under the Delaware Brain Tumor Walk tab at www.braintumor.org.
Donations also can be made toward Team Conley's participation in the Angels Among Us 5K at www.angelsamongus.org.
Brain Tumor Facts
- Brain tumors are the second leading cause of cancer related deaths in males between the ages of 20 and 39.
- More than 600,000 people in the United States are living with a brain tumor.
- Nearly 70,000 new cases of primary brain tumors are expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year, including 4,300 in children younger than 20.
- Each day, about 500 people are diagnosed with a primary brain tumor or a metastatic brain tumor.
- May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month.
Source: American Brain Tumor Association