ITHACA, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A 9-year-old battling terminal brain cancer has joined his local upstate New York police department as an honorary officer, allowing him to further his dreams of helping people, his parents said.
On Monday, the Ithaca Police Department welcomed Colin Hayward Toland to the police force, holding an official ceremony where Colin’s family, friends and fellow officers witnessed as he was sworn in as a police officer.
Colin was 2 years old when he was first diagnosed with brain cancer in June 2009, his father, Ian Hayward, told ABC News. The family, who was living in Connecticut at the time, was planning a trip to Vermont for Colin’s birthday and his parents’ 10-year anniversary when all of a sudden he fell ill, Hayward said.
“Things kind of took off rapidly,” Hayward said. “One day he was fine, the next he collapsed.”
Colin was then taken to Westchester Medical Center for emergency brain surgery, Hayward said. In the months that followed, he underwent two more brain surgeries and several months of high-dose chemotherapy before he went into remission.
Colin was cancer-free for a little over four years, Hayward said, before he relapsed about 20 months ago. Since then, he has undergone three more brain surgeries, the most recent this past May as a “last-ditch attempt” to “buy him a little bit of time,” Hayward said.
Colin has been on and off hospice for the past eight months. Last month, doctors told Hayward and his wife, Tamiko Toland, that they “couldn’t believe” that Colin was even walking considering how much the cancer had progressed. Once the family realized that Colin’s prognosis wasn’t looking good, they decided to do everything they could for him, Hayward said. They took him to Hawaii, to the Bahamas and to Camp Sunshine in Maine.
For a better quality of life, the family moved back to Ithaca, where both Hayward and Toland attended Cornell University, Hayward said.
Colin’s 12-year-old brother Aidan got to join the action as well, sharing the stage as Colin as he was sworn in and riding in a squad car with Colin and a member of the Ithaca Police Department.
After witnessing protests and violence against police in recent months, Colin “felt an immense amount of empathy” toward the officers, Hayward said, and decided that he wanted to become an one. He told his parents that as a police officer, he would “love everyone.”
“Colin wants to help people,” Hayward said. “He wants to reach out and make people feel okay.”
When asked what he wants his role to be at the police department, Colin jokingly said that he would probably be a receptionist, because he “wouldn’t be good at catching bad guys,” he told his father. Colin also would like to read bedtime stories to inmates, Hayward said.
Colin’s favorite part of his swear-in ceremony was the badge he was given, he told local media in Ithaca. But Toland said it’s the message the badge represents that means the most to her son.
“He said, ‘Everyone should go for their dreams,'” Hayward said, adding that he’s “so inspired” by him and his dreams.
Colin’s dream came true on Monday, and about 300 people showed up to watch him be sworn in, including 150 fellow police officers and his entire fourth-grade class from Northeast Elementary School, which scheduled a field trip to watch their classmate’s moment of honor.
Hayward held Colin’s hand as Toland pinned his badge to his uniform, according to the Ithaca Police Department. Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick then announced that Sept. 12 will now be known as “Colin Toland Hayward Day.”
Hayward and Toland were “moved to tears” while watching their son be recognized in such a big way, they said.
“When you lose a child to this disease, the one thing I feel parents are concerned or worried about is their child being forgotten or their child being a statistic,” Hayward said — not being able to become whatever it is they wanted to become.”
The Ithaca Police Department posted a photo album to its Facebook page titled Officer Colin Toland reporting for duty and even created a customized duffle bag with Colin’s name embroidered on it.
Hayward said that his “hope is always there,” despite the harrowing ordeal Colin has endured through the years. But, rather than hoping for a cure, he instead hopes to make it through the day.
“It makes life much more manageable as a parent,” he said.
The family plans to travel to Orlando this weekend and hopes to take a trip to Niagara Falls in the near future, Toland said.