Police officers on duty may call for backup, but now officers in the Wilton Police Department are proving they’ll support one of their fellow officers not just on duty but as she battles breast cancer.
School Resource Officer Elise Ackerman was diagnosed with breast cancer this past summer. She’s facing it with determination and bravery, continuing to keep her usual work schedule in Wilton’s schools and only taking one day a week off for weekly chemotherapy treatment.
The doctors have told her she has the most aggressive type of invasive cancer but that they caught it early.
“it’s scary. I had a friend who lost her mother to breast cancer when we were in first grade and I vividly remember, seeing the teachers going into the classroom and bringing her out. Here I am, having a kindergartner and a 20-month-old and an 18-year-old. I can’t imagine not being here for my kids. At the same time, you go through this shock and you’re upset, but then fighting mode. Because I’m like, okay, I’m not going anywhere,” Ackerman vows.
As soon as they heard what Ackerman was facing, her fellow officers pledged their support with whatever she needed. They also decided to do something that would show their colleague she wasn’t alone in the fight.
“We talked about the chemo and about losing her hair, how that would affect her feeling, going out into public like that,” says Lt. David Hartman. “She told me, ‘When the time comes, when the hair starts to come out, I’m just going to shave it off, I’m not even going to wait for it to fall.”
Hartman started to think about asking all the officers if they’d consider shaving their heads in solidarity. “But I was approached by a lot of officers before I even said anything to anybody.”
While they considered making it a fundraiser for Ackerman, Hartman said they have other fundraising plans, including a GoFundMe, so they made the head-shaving event more of a display of emotional and moral caring.
“This was just going to be for her, for a show of support so that she knows that she doesn’t have to be the only one without hair,” Hartman said.
As president of the Wilton Police Benevolent Association, Hartman has taken on the role of being that caretaker for the whole department, and even for officers who have retired. So it wasn’t unusual that he ran the show for the shave-a-thon. He was also the first to step forward for the shave, and Ackerman had the honor of working the clippers (see video below).
Hartman wanted to make sure she knew to what lengths her fellow officers would go to lift her up.
“For her to know that she has a whole family here to support her, I think is huge, to help her and her family get through this. It’s important for us to know and the other members to know that when you do fall on hard times, your PD family steps up. Not that your regular family doesn’t, but your PD family, which you spend a lot of time here, steps up to help out and you can rely on us to be there,” Hartman said.
Not only did members of the Police Department step up to go bald, but so did some of their friends and colleagues at the Wilton Fire Department and the Department of Public Works. Ackerman said she’s also gotten tremendous support from the teachers and staff at the Wilton schools, where she’s the School Resource Officer.
To Ackerman, this is the defining thing about Wilton.
“Even before I became a police officer here, I’ve always been a part of the Wilton Police Department family. I did my internship here when I was at West Conn. Since that point I always knew this was the department and community I wanted to be at. I came to Wilton on March 10th, 2014. And actually, I was told on Feb. 14, our then-Chief Lombardo called me on Valentine’s day. And I joke with my husband, that was the best Valentine’s Day gift, sorry, you can never top that. And seven years later, here I am. And you know, I couldn’t ask for a better department to be with, the whole community, even the schools. It’s obvious when I go in there now, my hair is gone and they ask is there anything I need, anything my family needs,” she said, looking around at the officers waiting to have their heads shaved. “It’s just wonderful. This just makes me feel even more blessed to be in the department and this community. It’s everybody.”
*The police officers who organized the event wanted to give a shout-out of thanks to Agron Barbershop, which provided the clippers and capes used during shaving.
To help support fundraising efforts for Ofc. Ackerman and her family, visit the GoFundMe campaign. The Police Benevolent Association has also created t-shirts for the cause; to purchase one, or to find out more about a fundraiser event being planned in February (including how to donate items for a silent auction) email Lt. Hartman.