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Miami County Megastars -- DD Awareness Month 2018

Haley Cerbus

For much of her life, Haley Cerbus has absolutely adored everything about music. The rhythm lights up her world almost as if each beat, each pound of the bass flips a switch within her, allowing her true personality to shine through. According to her mom, Diane, “To say Haley loves music is to say she enjoys breathing, for the two go hand-in-hand.”

When she was a child, Haley loved participating in Bethel Elementary School’s choir and being a part of their performances as often as she could. Combine this love of music with her exuberant personality and captivating energy and it only seems natural that Haley is a Riverside cheerleader. However, the journey from singing along in the elementary school choir to cheering on Riverside’s Special Olympics basketball teams wasn’t easy.

At the young age of six-years-old, Haley was identified as being on the autism spectrum. A little over a year later, in January 2001, she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and underwent 26 months of arduous treatments, including chemotherapy, various drugs, numerous spinal taps, and several bone marrow biopsies. Despite not experiencing many of the common side effects associated with cancer treatment, Haley lost all of her hair, suffered painful leg cramps, and felt completely drained.

Finally, in March 2003, Haley received her last round of treatment. She’d defeated cancer. Diane cites the support they received from family, friends, and the community as one of the main reasons they all got through the treatment. During this time, the Bethel High School varsity cheerleaders and their advisor, Mrs. Hinkle, learned about Haley’s interest in cheerleading and decided to invite her to a special practice session. Much to Haley’s surprise, the entire cheerleading squad performed special cheers for her that included her name. Even after practice was over, all of the girls continued their support for Haley and presented her with a signed megaphone.

According to Diane, this moment sparked Haley’s love of cheerleading and inspired her to join the Bethel Wee Stingers in third grade. Despite receiving treatments at the same time, Haley didn’t let the side effects stop her from doing what she loved—cheering. Diane recounts that no matter what, Haley was always out there on the sidelines with her friends, sharing her happiness with others.

Unfortunately, Haley’s victory over cancer was short-lived. In February 2005, four years after defeating cancer the first time, Haley and her family learned her leukemia had returned. According to Diane, it’s extremely rare for someone to be cancer-free for as long as Haley was and go into remission. If Haley had made it one more year without her cancer returning, she would’ve been considered cured.

Nonetheless, as just a 5th grader, Haley began another round of treatments—this time following an entirely new protocol—and began a second fight for her life.

This time around, Haley’s side effects were more severe and were accompanied by a whole new set of side effects. Throughout 2005, Haley was hospitalized many times due to low blood counts and fevers. At one point, she was taking 14 prescriptions a day just to help her stay alive. The only thing that seemed to keep her mind off everything was cheerleading. According to Diane, “Many times in the hospital, she would have her nurses cheering with her, and one time even her doctor did a cheer with her.” Without cheerleading, Haley may have lost her ambition to fight for her life. In the end, cheerleading was Haley’s life-line.

Along with family and friends’ support, cheerleading helped Haley beat leukemia again in June 2007. As of today, she’s still cancer-free and has annual check-ups to ensure the leukemia hasn’t returned.

Through all the pain, heartache, and unknown, Haley’s love of cheerleading flourished, and she became an active cheerleader at her school. However, after Haley graduated, she and her parents thought her cheerleading days had come to an end. Despite still having such a deep love of the sport, Haley faced having to give up what was once her life-line.

That’s when Riverside’s Special Olympics program changed everything and helped Haley continue pursuing her passion for cheerleading.

Although Haley had been connected with Riverside since 2006, she wasn’t active with Special Olympics. It wasn’t until she faced never cheering again that Diane suggested she join. Since then, Diane believes Riverside is now becoming more like a second home because of the way the staff has welcomed Haley like a family member.

Riverside helped the Cerbus family during times when they needed it the most, providing them with answers, guidance, and overall support. Now, Diane can confidently say, “As a parent of a child with special needs, Riverside helps with the anxiety, all of the decisions you have to make.” For Haley and Diane, the entire Riverside family has been amazing, but the Recreation staff has been a particular blessing.

Through the Riverside Recreation Department, Haley was able to join the Special Olympics cheerleading squad and cheer alongside her friends. Diane has also been able to get involved and take on a role she never imagined herself in. Now as the head cheerleading coach, Diane witnesses not only her daughter’s love of cheerleading, but other girls’ as well.

For Diane, it’s been amazing to see girls of all ages and all abilities on the same team, showcasing their love of the sport, their support for their fellow athletes, and their appreciation of Riverside. “It brings tears to my eyes when people of all abilities can be happy.”

Riverside’s Recreation Department has also allowed for another community to surround Haley—the Troy High School varsity cheerleaders, who have been helping the Special Olympics team. What started out as a nice gesture has turned into a relationship Diane and the other cheerleaders appreciate beyond words. Because of their phenomenal support, Diane and the Riverside Recreation Department invited the Troy High School cheerleaders to perform with Special Olympics cheerleaders at Riverside’s Spirit Night on March 1.

When Haley started cheering for Riverside, she nor her family imagined she’d end up at an event like Spirit Night—still doing what she loves and cheering alongside new and old friends alike. Diane knows none of it would’ve been possible without the support of friends, family, and Riverside staff.

Most of all though, Diane firmly believes God is the sole reason they persevered through it all. “We’ve been blessed to be the recipients of an abundance of prayer support throughout this experience, and I would be remiss not to acknowledge it. Simply put, without God walking beside us, we would have buckled under the strain a long time ago. We can only be grateful for Him for all that He’s done and continues to do for our family.”

You can see Haley demonstrating this strength and cheering on her beloved Miami County Magic at Riverside during flag football season this fall. Until then, she’ll be showcasing her love of music with her fellow Riverside Bell Choir members.