Breast Cancer Awareness Month presents an opportunity for survivors and the general public to come together in support and education. At M-A, teacher survivors inspire staff and students through their perseverance and optimism. Staff members who are indirectly affected by cancer share with those teachers a passion for the discovery of a cure to cancer.
Part-time Spanish teacher Margaret Osborn is passionate about not allowing cancer to take over her life. Now in remission for breast cancer, Osborn asserts that teaching gives her a purpose in life, especially in the atmosphere at M-A with its diversity and drive for excellence. She outlined some of the difficulties that she has encountered in teaching part-time, but conveyed her appreciation for the accommodation and understanding of her students in these struggles.
Osborn places high value on the education of M-A students, explaining that she “returned to the classroom when [she] knew that [she] could handle teaching three classes and give the students what they needed.” She struggled to find a balance between her passion for teaching and ensuring her own good health, eventually deciding to “take the necessary time away from the classroom.” After discussing her status with her doctor, she returned to teaching when she knew that neither her students’ learning nor her health would be compromised by her status.
Osborn finds that “the hardest part is trying to stay calm in the midst of demands.” Osborn admits that stressful demands such as letters of recommendation and quarter grades are not the healthiest for her, but she does other activities outside of school that help her relax and give her energy to tackle challenges at work when they arise. One of her primary motivations for staying healthy is so that she can continue teaching; she refuses to allow “cancer to rob [her] of what [she] likes to do best.”
Osborn takes an active role in informing people about cancer, believing that “people have to look very carefully where they donate money.” She contends that money donated to a cancer research organization should all be applied to cancer research. Recognizing that early diagnosis alone does not translate to longer lifespan, Osborn encourages maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise as means to keeping cancer under control.
Christina Galliano, a history and gender studies teacher, has contributed to the increase in cancer awareness at M-A. She appreciated and valued the support that she received when members of her families received cancer diagnosis. In regard to the support she found among her colleagues, Galliano asserts that “there’s no other place [she] would want to work.” She described instances when her colleagues supported both her mother and husband at different times when they were sick.
One of the greatest points Galliano emphasized was the exhibition of concern for people with cancer: “Sometimes when people are sick, people are afraid to say anything. And sometimes they really need a place where they can talk about it and feel comfortable.” Galliano believes this exists at M-A and strives to spread this degree of support to others in the community. For this reason, Galliano will participate in her seventh breast cancer walk this year with Avon, accompanied by fellow M-A teacher, Rachel Andres. This year they will walk a total of 39.3 miles, over one and a half marathons!
Having first participated in the walk as a test of endurance, Galliano and Andres found the walk to be a humbling experience. As they have continued to do the walk for a number of years, both teachers appreciate the camaraderie and widespread support for cancer survivors that the event displays. Last year, Galliano reached her goal of raising $10,000 to donate to breast cancer research. She participates in these events because she is confident that “if we find a cure for one cancer, we find a cure for all of them.”
Galliano also encourages students to show support for cancer patients, especially during October, and that people do not always realize how much of an impact demonstrating concern has on those struggling with the disease. Like Osborn, Galliano is in favor of encouraging people to maintain a healthy lifestyle. For her that also includes supporting awareness and education on the importance of cancer screenings, including mammograms, and therefore increase the number of people who get them. Her inspiration for spreading cancer awareness is drawn largely from the events she has participated in and the people she has met. Galliano urges others to consider participating in the walks or other awareness movements.
John Dumanske, a geometry teacher, appreciates his colleagues’ and students’ support as he battles stage four colon cancer. Stage four means that the cancer has left the original site and in Dumanske’s case, spread to his liver. While the cancer from his colon was cut out, he must continually take drugs and undergo chemotherapy to keep the cancer in his liver at bay. Despite his constant fight, Dumanske continues to teach students at M-A because he “enjoys those a-ha moments when students really get it, and [he has] an ability to relay information.”
He maintains that teaching allows him to keep a sense of normalcy in his life, not knowing what other occupation he would have if he were not teaching. He states that if he “wasn’t teaching, then [he] would be homesick.” Like Osborn, Dumanske demonstrates the resolve and perseverance that he has attained through his experiences, as well as a passion to use his abilities to serve his community.
Dumanske related one of his more difficult experiences with cancer, explaining that one week during school, his sleep schedule was completely erratic, having switched from chemotherapy pills back to infused chemotherapy. This process required steroids that altered his sleep and lifestyle he had maintained for the past weeks. Dumanske also admitted that it was hard to accept the sudden disappearance of previously involved people from his life and affirmed the importance of friends and family demonstrating care and concern for him.
Throughout his post-diagnosis life, Dumanske has found support and consolation in his family and friends, as well as through his church. He recounted that when he became very sick, “a lot of different people from the [M-A] staff reached out and came to [his] house to visit.” He continued to say that “several of [his] classes made cards to get better.”
Playing in a band at his church has helped Dumanske stay connected with the people that care for him. Those people helped him to accept that “what’s going on with [him] is out of [his] control. That it’s in God’s control. It’s in the doctor’s control.” He went on to thank his wife “for being so strong through all of this.” Dumanske’s resilience and positivity while living with cancer is nothing short of inspirational, however, he claims he was able to keep his strength as a result of the support of people around him. By remaining involved in his life, Dumanske’s loved ones provided him with the motivation to be strong and fight through cancer.
The stories of Osborn and Dumanske and the efforts of Galliano and Andres, among others, bring to light that cancer is a fight we as a community can win. While the motivation and will to fight starts with the individual, it is clear that the support of loved ones and members of the community are critical in a long and difficult battle. Although the idea may be hard to grasp, people should understand that anyone can play a pivotal role in a cancer patient’s life. While it may seem like a daunting task, by showing concern and offering help, we are connecting them to the entire community and reminding them that they are not alone. That simple gesture is the first step towards a better future; one where cancer is a thing of the past.
Special thanks to Margaret Osborn, John Dumanske and Christina Galliano for sharing their stories. For more information on how you can get involved please go to the following: