SYRACUSE — The 3-foot-tall, extra-soft, stuffed monkey sat on Isabel Hadley’s lap.
The fourth-grader had dropped by her Cook Elementary classroom Wednesday to say hello to her classmates and to see firsthand what the animal — officially named Monkey — was up to.
Monkey, dressed in a purple T-shirt and purple skirt, usually sits in Isabel’s chair, or is carried to the PE classes or computer lab, or attends an assembly.
The stuffed animal is there to remind the students taught by Debbie Hankins and Sheila Worley that Isabel plans to come back.
For now, though, Isabel, whose favorite color is purple, is undergoing chemotherapy and soon will be receiving radiation treatments. She is battling Ewing’s sarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer.
The diagnosis came in November during a regular follow-up medical appointment, said Jen Hadley, Isabel’s mother.
This is not Isabel’s first encounter with cancer. She was diagnosed in 2007, at age 5, with rhabdomyosarcoma, a muscle cancer.
Doctors said the cancers are unrelated, Jen Hadley said.
The treatments are supposed to be finished by August, so Isabel cannot attend school on a regular basis.
Worley spends a few hours each week with Isabel, helping the girl with her schoolwork.
The school also received, from an anonymous donor, an iPad, so Isabel can spend “face time” with her classmates when they are inside the school. The classroom is in a portable that does not have Wi-Fi, Hankins said, so they have to go inside the school.
Shortly after the latest diagnosis, Jen Hadley went online and signed up for the “Monkey in My Chair” program. The nonprofit organization sent Monkey, along with a backpack, to the Hadley family in January.
Each week, Isabel’s little sister, Maddie, who is in kindergarten, takes Monkey home — along with cards, notes and a journal with pictures that are stuffed inside the backpack.
“I think they really love me and care about me,” Isabel said of her classmates. “I feel like I’m still part of them.”
Drew Hogan, who is a classmate and a neighbor of Isabel, said everyone in the class takes turns carrying Monkey to the different activities.
“It helps a lot to have Monkey around, but we’d rather have Isabel,” Drew said.
Monkey even had the opportunity to help build catapults and launch foam balls.
“She’s really good,” Drew said.
Lydia Porter, another classmate, said taking photos of Monkey doing different things is fun, “but it’s fun to see Isabel,” even if it is just on the iPad.
Hankins said it’s not just Monkey that is helping the students — the students are coming up with ideas to raise funds for the Hadley family.
Isabel’s friend, Boston Jensen, who has been in the same classroom with Isabel from first grade until this year, raised more than $1,000, selling bracelets and coupons for pizzas.
Her classmates also raised $1,000 selling hearts cut out of construction paper. The hearts are taped to a wall in the multipurpose room, reminding all of the students that Isabel plans to return.
But until she does, Monkey, with a smile on her face, sits in Isabel’s chair.