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Kindergartener battling cancer receives royal treatment at Rochester school

Nathan Herber was set to get his final dose of chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma on Thursday, ending a streak of 900 days -- about 2 1/2 years of treatment.

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Nathan Herber, 6, grins as looks out the roof of his parents minivan while slowly driving by his friends. The entire student body at St. Francis of Assisi School came out to greet their classmate, kindergartner Nathan Herber, who was on his way home from his final chemotherapy treatment for non-hodgkins lymphoma Thursday, March 25, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Six-year-old Nathan Herber received a hero's welcome this week when he briefly returned to school at St. Francis of Assisi in Rochester, Minn.

More than 300 of his fellow students lined up in the parking lot Thursday morning, March 25, to cheer him on as his parents slowly drove in their minivan past them. Nathan has been homeschooling this year while receiving treatment for cancer.

His former preschool teacher, Margi Newkirk, said that before Nathan started doing school at home, he tried not to let his treatment hold him back.

"He's a great kid: always happy," Newkirk said. "Even when he came back to school, he was very unsteady, but he tried to do as much as he could on his own ... he tried to run on the playground with everybody else."

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The school's principal, Barb Plenge, said the day originally was just going to be Nathan's class greeting him during the procession. But the plans quickly ballooned to include most of the school.

The students waved banners and started cheering "Na-than! Na-than!" as the van rolled by with Nathan waving from inside the open door. Later on in the procession, he peeked his head up through the van's skylight window. Nathan was joined by his parents, his twin brother, Justin, and his older brother Grant, 10.

According to his father, Andy, Nathan was diagnosed with stage 4 T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2018. Thursday, he was set to get his final dose of treatment, ending a streak of 900 days — amounting to roughly 2 1/2 years.

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The entire student body at St. Francis of Assisi School came out to greet their classmate, kindergartner Nathan Herber, who was on his way home from his final chemotherapy treatment for non-hodgkins lymphoma Thursday, March 25, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

Having the school cheer them on, even for just a little while, was a heart-warming gesture for the family.

"It's very uplifting. We have not been alone at all through this journey," said Nathan's mom, Becky. "It's just such a loving embrace to put closure to a long road and long journey with people who have been with us through the process and deserve to celebrate the end with us."

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Nathan is planning on returning to school in the fall.

"It's all he talks about," Becky said.

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Nathan Herber, 6, and his mom, Becky Herber wave to Nathan's classmates. The entire student body at St. Francis of Assisi School came out to greet their classmate, kindergartner Nathan Herber, who was on his way home from his final chemotherapy treatment for non-hodgkins lymphoma Thursday, March 25, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

After the parade ended, the students filtered back into the school. Nathan and his family got out of the van to hug Newkirk. Meanwhile, Plenge carried a large stack of the posters, banners and well wishes in her hands and offered them to Becky.

"I thought you might like to read through these later," the principal said.

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Related Topics: PEOPLEROCHESTER
Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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