Readers’ Choice Person of the Year: ‘One of the Best People I Have Ever Met’

ESD student battles cancer, but focuses on caring for others

When you’re a dancer, you’re prepared to sometimes get injured. For 11-year-old Isabelle “Izzy” Martin, a dance injury turned out to be something much more serious.

But it’s what happened as she fights cancer that earned the Episcopal School of Dallas student more than 900 votes in our Readers’ Choice Person of the Year for 2021.

On Feb. 13, 2020, Izzy injured her leg at dance class — and it turned out to be a broken femur, which didn’t jibe with the low-impact incident. Tests revealed that she had stage four osteosarcoma — a bone cancer. She’s been battling it ever since.

“Despite having 13 surgeries, including a full femur replacement and a skull surgery, she has not only maintained a positive attitude, but has also spent countless hours helping the community,” one nominator said. “She’s donated hundreds of care packages for Austin Street Center, is an inaugural member of United Way’s ‘Teens United,’ and has raised over $200,000 for Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research.”

But if you ask Izzy, she’ll say that what she hopes is that her actions will result in better funding for osteosarcoma research, and awareness.

“My entire life, I have always believed that knowledge is power,” she said. “So when we know more about something we can do more about it. When I first got diagnosed, we learned how little funding goes into pediatric cancer, and specifically osteosarcoma. I want people to know that they can make a difference, no matter their circumstances.”

As she’s navigated her illness, she’s made quite an impression on her friends and teachers, too.

“Izzy’s commitment to engaging with the ESD community has been inspiring to witness,” said Jonathan Chein, ESD’s Head of Middle School.

“Izzy should be the Person of the Year because of her love of life, her insistence on moving forward expeditiously, and her dedication to making the most of the precious time that we have.”

Rev. Tim Kennedy

Allison Darnell, sixth-grade dean and math teacher, said that she admires both her determination and her “caring heart.”

“With her strength, determination, can-do-attitude, and humor, nothing limits her. She is so hard-working and determined,” Darnell said.

“Though facing significant physical challenges, she has enthusiastically embraced life and lives it to the fullest,” said ESD chaplain and religion teacher Rev. Tim Kennedy. “Izzy should be the Person of the Year because of her love of life, her insistence on moving forward expeditiously, and her dedication to making the most of the precious time that we have.”

“There is not a flaw about her,” said classmate Wynne Horton. “She is one of the best people I have ever met.”

“Izzy is so funny and the toughest, smartest person I know,” agreed classmate McCall Moore. “She still gets through school just as well as anyone else and never feels sorry for herself.”

As a new year approaches and she looks to start her fourth treatment protocol, Izzy says she has lots of hopes for the year, including “finding more ways to support things I care about” — including the Austin Street Center and the Osteosarcoma Institute.

And one other thing: “I guess I wouldn’t mind having another dog in the family,” she grinned.

We announced our Persons of the Year on Dec. 17, and it wasn’t long before the celebrations for Izzy began. NBC DFW’s Meredith Land, whose daughter is a classmate, reported on her honor, and had a special surprise.

Izzy was among several nominees that included Mark Cuban, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, and Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa.

“Person of the Year. Well deserved! You’re just amazing. Such power and grace and strength. Congratulations,” Cuban said in Land’s report. He also pledged $25,000 to the #TeamIzzy Osteosarcoma Science Fund.

Another nominee quickly pledged to donate as well.

“This is the right choice for sure,” Jenkins said via Twitter. “Your courage, kindness and focus on others is inspiring! Put me down for a donation to Team Izzy’s Foundation.”

Our conversation with Izzy, as well as what her friends and teachers had to say, follows.

PN: Your life has changed a lot since that first diagnosis, but what are some things that have stayed the same?
Izzy: Well, my life definitely has changed … but who I am hasn’t. I’m still passionate about serving others and I have a desire to learn and educate myself about the things that mattered.

PN: What do you feel is important for people to know about you?
Izzy: My entire life, I have always believed that knowledge is power. So when we know more about something we can do more of them. And when I first got diagnosed, we’ve learned how little funding goes into pediatric cancer, and specifically osteosarcoma. I want people to know that they can make a difference, no matter their circumstances. It’s making a snack bag for your local shelter, raising money for a cause you care about, or something where you’re involved in an issue you support — every little thing matters.

PN: More than 1,600 people voted in our reader’s choice person of the year poll, and you got more than 900 votes. Your story really touches people. How does it feel to have such a big #teamizzy?
Izzy: It feels really great, and a little overwhelming to have such support. But the more people that know my story and the more opportunities I have to bring awareness of things I care about, and I hopefully inspire others too.

PN: What are your hopes and dreams for 2022?
Izzy: I have a lot of hope for 2022, but mostly I am looking forward to finding more ways to support the causes I care about. I’m always asking the Austin Street Center, a local shelter here in Dallas, what they need. I can either make bags or give them items to donate. We also have a hashtag — #TeamIzzy — Science Fund with the Osteosarcoma Institute right here in Dallas. All funds raised go directly to research and clinical trials for osteosarcoma. This means so much to me, especially since I will start my fourth different treatment protocol to battle osteosarcoma. In February, I will turn 12 and (it’s been) over two years since my life changed.
I guess I wouldn’t mind adding another dog to the family, too.

We asked Izzy’s friends and teachers: Why do you feel Izzy should be Person of the Year?

Jonathan Chein, Head of Middle School: “Izzy’s commitment to engaging with the ESD community has been inspiring to witness. Since the moment she joined ESD, she has been all in!”

Allison Darnell, Sixth Grade Dean and Math Teacher:  “I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award and recognition than Izzy Martin. With her strength, determination, can-do-attitude, and humor, nothing limits her. She is so hard-working and determined. The more you interact with Izzy, the more you want to spend time with her and get to know her. She has so many interests, brings great perspectives, and has such a caring heart. I am so fortunate to know Izzy – she is a student who I will always remember, and I have no doubt she will continue to impact the lives of others.”

Wynne Horton, classmate: “It is hard to pick the right words to describe her because she is so amazing. Izzy is a very strong person especially given what she has been going through. She is very kind, a loyal friend, a good student,  a good sibling, and always makes me laugh. There is not a flaw about her. She is one of the best people I have ever met.”

The Rev. Tim Kennedy, Chaplain and Religion Teacher: “Izzy Martin is one of the sharpest and wittiest sixth graders I have ever met. Though facing significant physical challenges, she has enthusiastically embraced life and lives it to the fullest. She has dedicated herself not only to her own healing but also to the mission of defeating childhood cancer which affects so many. Her beautiful sense of humor, sly smile, clever writing, and determined focus on the future are wonderful qualities which endear her to so many.  Izzy should be the Person of the Year because of her love of life, her insistence on moving forward expeditiously, and her dedication to making the most of the precious time that we have.”

McCall Moore, classmate:  “Izzy is so funny and the toughest, smartest person I know. She still gets through school just as well as anyone else and never feels sorry for herself. I know Izzy is going to beat this!”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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