Community members wave their posters with words of encouragement and #melstrong in Heise Park on Wednesday, Oct. 28 as sixth grade cancer patient Melanie Wheeler returns to town.

GALION, Ohio — Both sides of Heise Park Lane in Galion filled Wednesday evening as students, teachers, friends and family members waited in anticipation to see Melanie Wheeler — a sixth grader fighting cancer.

What happened at Heise Park Wednesday was a culmination of last-minute planning to surprise Melanie, who was diagnosed with cancer last week. When friends of the family learned of Melanie’s diagnosis, they never questioned whether the community should do something for her.

“It’s awesome to see everyone rally together. I’m so proud of my town,” said Angie Heckert, a family friend and main conspirator of Wednesday’s gathering in the park.

“This is the way — [Galion] Tigers don’t fight alone,” she said.

The group of hundreds of community members started filing in to the park around 5 p.m. There were classmates, Galion teachers, the middle school football team, and community members.

Heise Park Lane

The Wheelers vehicle was escorted by two Galion police cars. The gathered community waved and cheered, clasping colorful poster boards with encouraging messages.

“She’s in God’s hands,” said her grandmother, Jean Wheeler, as she waited for her granddaughter to arrive. “We feel so blessed by all of this.”

On Tuesday, a video was posted on Galion Middle School’s Facebook page showing a large group of middle school students forming “#melstrong” with their bodies standing on the gym floor.

“The video, in my opinion, represents everything that is good about the City of Galion. People coming together to rally around a family that is going to face the hardest battle of their lives,” said Galion Middle School Principal Jennifer Allerding.

A collaborative effort, the school organized the making of the video in under 48 hours, said Allerding. Photorama, along with other community members, helped with creating the video.

“It was something that the kids really wanted to do. They were into it. That’s just something small towns do. You hope it brings a smile to someone’s face and helps the family somehow,” said Photorama owner Craig Alguire.


Melanie’s friends were eager to see her Wednesday evening.

“She’s awesomely amazing and has a good attitude,” said classmate and friend Zaynah Tate.

According to her father, Tom Wheeler, Melanie was diagnosed with stage one intradural extramedullary filum terminale myxopapillary ependymoma, a rare chronic cancer.

“This is what we are going to be fighting …” he wrote on his Facebook page. “ … This isn’t the battle we thought we were going to fight, but it is the the fight we are going to win.”

The Life & Culture section is powered by University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center.

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