Local teacher, cancer patient shares story and spreads awareness through philanthropy

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Courtesy of Garrison Wollam

“Cancer is Dumb” tie-dye t-shirt that is a part of the new clothing feature line.

Anthony Zacharyasz, Reporter

At Holden Elementary in Kent, there is one school teacher who continues to use his philanthropy work to tell his story and make a difference in the lives of others.

Garrison Wollam is a third-grade teacher who is about to finish up his third year of maintenance treatment to treat his diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL. While fighting his battle against cancer, Wollam continues to care for his family and be a “big kid” in the classroom.

Back in 2019 at the age of 37, Wollam was diagnosed with ALL, which is a common form of childhood cancer. Now three years later, Wollam is using his experiences to write children’s books and create a merchandise line known as “Cancer is Dumb.”

“We intend to provide humorous items to support loved ones affected by cancer. Cancer is Dumb,” according to Wollam’s website.

Wollam’s merchandise line was started in February 2022 and Wojo, a marketing company, is assisting Wollam with his website. On top of other products available on his website, Wollam and Wojo have come together to create a new feature line of tie-dye t-shirts that provide patrons with vibrant and colorful shirts.

On the shirts are different sayings that Wollam came up with including the classic “Cancer is Dumb” line, along with other sayings like “So Dumb!” and “Cancer Skips Leg Day.”

Twenty percent of proceeds from his website sales are donated to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Since the launch of the website, Wollam said he has donated $612.14 to St. Jude.

When Wollam makes a donation, he includes his third-grade class in on the fun by having them join him on a virtual call with a St. Jude representative.

Garrison Wollam wears a “Cancer is Dumb” sweatshirt from his campaign. (Courtesy of Garrison Wollam)

“There’s a lot more to teaching than you know math and reading,” Wollam said. “I want to teach them about life and how to be a good person.”

All while Wollam is selling “Cancer is Dumb” merchandise, he has been able to write and self-publish four children’s books over the last year. However, he had helping hands with his books from his two children, Griffin and Lilly.

“Boogers, Bugs, and Hugs from Slugs: 50 Silly, Humorous, and Sometimes Gross Poems for Kids,” “Buster Slugless Learns His Lesson,” “Buster Slugless Learns His Worth: When the Ain’ts Come Marching In” and “Daddy’s Orange Bracelet” are all the works of Wollam and his children.

Wollam got his passion for writing and storytelling from famous author Shel Silverstein, in which Wollam wanted to not only share these stories with his own children, but also provide comical books for young children to laugh and love.

The illustrations in “Boogers, Bugs, and Hugs from Slugs” and the “Buster Slugless” duology series were created by Griffin, who was ten at the time. The character, Buster, from “Buster Slugless” was a vision Wollam had for years floating around in his head to create. He was finally able to do that in 2021 with his son when those stories were published.

“Boogers, Bugs, and Hugs from Slugs” was his attempt to be silly and funny with poetry and include things that make kids laugh and smile, Wollam said.

“Daddy’s Orange Bracelet” was a story written about Wollam’s battle with cancer through the perspective of Lilly, who was seven at the time of the story being written.

The photos in “Daddy’s Orange Bracelet” are all personal, family pictures that Wollam wanted to include to give readers a sense of realism and also give them an understanding of what Wollam and his family had to endure over the past few years.

To Wollam, his books and merchandise line have given him a sense of accomplishment.

“Almost dying kind of makes you realize that you want to accomplish something with your life before it’s too late,” Wollam said. “So, that is my driving force . . . there is nothing more motivating than your own mortality.”

All of his books are available for purchase and can be found on Amazon, while all “Cancer is Dumb” products and merchandise can be found on his website.

Wollam wanted to leave readers with a quote from former President Abraham Lincoln: “If you want your name to be remembered after your death either do something worth writing or write something worth reading.”

Anthony Zacharyasz is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]