17-year-old cancer patient experiences day as police officer
Christmas week ... it's a time of year that's synonymous with dreams and wishes coming true for kids — young and old.
For one area high school sophomore, this magical season arrived a little earlier than expected.
Cindy Settles, of Rolla, can't remember a time when her 17-year-old son, Aaron, didn't want to be a police officer.
"He's always wanted to be a cop," she said. "It's all Aaron has talked about."
A week before Halloween of this year, Aaron was diagnosed with stage four Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma, a form of throat cancer.
According to Cindy, it began with a big lump on his neck that wouldn't go away. The growth turned out to be cancerous. Chemotherapy treatments began in mid-November at Children's Hospital in St. Louis.
"I cried for the first week or so," said Cindy. "His two older brothers and younger sister took it really hard as well."
Aaron began to fill out paperwork for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation, which began in 1980, is an international, non-profit organization that grants wishes to children who have been diagnosed with life-threatening conditions.
Aaron dreamed of being a police officer for the day.
His friend and mentor, Stacey Smith, got word of it. Smith is the communications supervisor for the Rolla Police Department.
She knew quite well about Aaron's wish of being a police officer and began some behind-the-scenes work on seeing if she could make something happen here locally and quickly.
She wanted a day for Aaron to come together before he got too far along in his cancer treatments.
"I sent out an email explaining the situation to officers and staff and everybody wanted to help out," Smith told the Daily News. "I was completely blown away (by the response I received)."
Meet Honorary Officer 829
Aaron's big day came Tuesday, Dec. 3. He was outfitted with a Rolla Police Department uniform (No. 829) thanks to Animal Control Officer Kathleen McMeen who did some last-minute alterations.
He was sworn into office that morning by Rolla Mayor Bill Jenks III and then Aaron was off to work. Aaron tagged along with Rolla police officers and learned the ropes of traffic stops, making arrests and detective work. That was just in the morning.
Penelope's Restaurant had a special luncheon for him and his mom. Members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Missouri University of Science and Technology's Police Department and the Phelps County Sheriff's Department all came out to honor Officer 829.
Aaron spent the afternoon with the Rolla SWAT team and the department's K-9 unit before heading back to police headquarters to do some office work.
According to Aaron, helping out the SWAT team was one of the best parts of his day.
Goodness gone viral
This young man's dream-come-true day didn't end there. Local videographer Justin Renaud volunteered his time and spent the day documenting Aaron's day with the police department. His finished four-minute production was posted on the Rolla Police Department's Facebook page a few days later. It has received dozens of comments from viewers who were moved and touched by the whole series of events. Among the comments were:
"Awesome video. Had me in tears! No kid deserves to have to deal with cancer...so proud to be from Rolla and seeing them make a child's dream come true and for him to be able to forget for one day about being sick."
"Oh, Wow! That was just wonderful. You all made that young man's dream come true. I am so proud of each one of you and I don't know any of you. You are all heroes. Aaron, you fight that cancer and become a full-time police officer."
According to Smith, the video has been shown on media outlets in St. Louis, Denver and even Nigeria. He's received a California Highway Patrol uniform shirt as well as patches from University of Minnesota's police.
He happened to be at Children's Hospital when he and his family first saw the video.
"He just had the biggest smile on his face," said Cindy. "He watched it three or four times and cried every time he watched it."
Aaron's mom said his chemo treatments are going well. Doctors say that he's going to beat the cancer. This is good news for the Settles family this Christmas season.
If there is any bad news, it's the fact that you have to be 20 years old to join the Rolla police force, but some dreams are worth waiting for.