Those who saw the Ithaca Police Department’s youngest officer, Colin Hayward Toland, at the Cornell men’s hockey game against Princeton on Nov. 19 must know this: Colin wasn’t wearing his blue uniform just because he likes it.
He wore it because, despite taking in the game near the front of Section O with his family and a few friends, Colin was representing the IPD in an official capacity.
“He won’t wear his police uniform if he’s not on duty,” said his mother, Tamiko Toland ’90. “I asked him if he wanted to wear it to school for picture day, and he’s like, ‘No, why would I do that?’ It’s not a costume; it’s his uniform.”
The 9-year-old, who’s battled a rare form of brain cancer for most of his life, made headlines Sept. 12 when he was sworn in as an IPD officer. And after just two months on the job, Colin was recognized as the Kiwanis Club Frank G. Hammer Officer of the Month for November in a special on-ice ceremony during the first intermission of the Big Red’s 4-2 victory over the Tigers.
Colin’s official recognition from the Kiwanis Club was scheduled for Nov. 21 but postponed due to the weather. It has been rescheduled for Nov. 28.
A fourth-grader at Northeast Elementary in Ithaca, Colin was diagnosed shortly after his second birthday, June 12, 2009, with a rare form of cancer called anaplastic ependymoma. The tumor was wrapped around his cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance and motor skills, and extended down to the brain stem and spinal cord.
He began 14 months of treatment in late August 2009 at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and has had numerous highs and lows in the seven years since. Tests in January 2015 showed that the cancer had returned, and he started taking everolimus, a relatively new drug mainly used as an immunosuppressant in organ transplants but also to treat certain cancers.
Six months ago, another MRI showed the drug therapy hadn’t worked and the cancer once again had returned. He was becoming symptomatic, meaning that without aggressive treatment, his prognosis would not be good. Nine days later, on May 18, he was back at St. Jude’s for his sixth brain surgery and a series of 30 radiation treatments.
Colin has been the beneficiary of many people caring for and about him, and while he was in treatment this summer, he decided that he wanted to give some of that love back.
“I came back from my hospital, and I really wanted to help people,” he said during the first intermission of the hockey game. “So I thought it would be a great idea to become a police officer.”
His wish came true two months ago in a ceremony at Stewart Park, attended by more than 100 of his classmates and police brethren from as far away as Auburn and Cortland. He has since devoted numerous hours to the IPD, including outreach and training in all aspects of police work.
Although he freely admits that it’s unusual for someone like him to actually be a police officer (“It’s quite awkward to become a police officer this quickly, when you’re this young,” he said), IPD Chief John Barber said it’s not just a token appointment.
“This is a 9-year-old boy who is such a leader in his own way, it’s really incredible,” said Barber, who nominated Colin for the Kiwanis award. “He can get in a room full of officers and command that room, and tell stories and just uplift the morale of everyone. He’s just been a great ambassador for our department and a real friend.”
Said Colin’s father, Ian Hayward ’04: “He feels like he’s a big part of the community, and he also feels like he should be giving back every day. Every time we tell him it’s time to go to work, he throws on his uniform, and so as a dad, to watch him to be with his brothers and sisters in the IPD, it’s awesome.”
Toland said the bringing together of two of Colin’s passions – the IPD and the men’s hockey team, with whom Colin has grown very close over the past couple of years – made for an “incredible” evening. Colin watched the game with his parents and older brother, Aidan, a seventh-grader at DeWitt Middle School.
“It’s two things that Colin is really comfortable with,” she said. “He obviously knows the team really well, he’s been to a lot of games, and to go onto the ice with his chief and his fellow officers, it was great.
“And because it was honoring his officer of the month award,” she said, “it was pretty special for all of us.”