I’ve had the privilege of being a part of the same school community for the last ten years. It’s been a decade full of growth and transition where we’ve held countless learning celebrations, believed in the power of “yet,” and shared beautiful moments inside and outside of the classroom. But the time has also been riddled with its share of sadness and frustration. As a group of staff, students, and caregivers, we’ve experienced several cancer diagnoses. We’ve questioned hard truths, faced the realities that stem from arduous treatment plans, and even navigated loss. Through it all, this community has walked together and transformed into something so much more than just the average school group; we’ve become a family.
Just last week, we received word of the latest cancer diagnosis, the third this year. The stories behind the illness and those fighting the battle are not mine to tell. I can only speak to the response, to the way this community almost inherently bands together to lift and support the person, or persons, in need. Without blinking, meal trains are set up, Caring Bridge sites are started, and endless prayers storm the heavens. A palpable sense of love and care surrounds this network of people.
Before I go further, let me address the elephant in the room. Yes, we realize that multiple cancer diagnoses in one school building feels strange. Yes, we question how and why this keeps happening. And yes, we’ve done our due diligence with extensive environmental testing…multiple times. It does seem like we can’t catch a break like it’s one hit after the other. But nothing abnormal comes up. Nothing gives us the answers we’re searching for, so I (we) choose to focus on what we can control: the way we join together in times of adversity.
The connection within our community spans far outside the walls of the school building. I’ve witnessed parents in the medical profession drop everything to lend aid. They’ve helped without hesitation, paying it forward regardless if the teacher in need directly impacted their child. Fitness organizations and local restaurants have organized city-wide fundraising events, donating all profits for good. Even school-aged classes within the district have sent pictures, mementos, and words of affirmation. (I don’t think there is an age requirement when it comes to understanding the intrinsic need for hope and love.)
Cancer has redefined our “village.” The past decade has presented more health challenges than one community should ever have to face. But we continue to walk alongside and support one another. We have a common purpose and share a deeply personal understanding of the fragility of life. Somehow, in the midst of all of this illness and pain, we’ve rallied together and transformed into a family.