HONOREES

Eileen Bayanati

My name is Eileen Bayanati and I am a fifth-grade math teacher at Peace River Elementary School in Charlotte County, Florida.  Thanksgiving week of 2019 changed my life and was the beginning of my cancer journey.  By December, when we had begun our winter break, I was in the hands of a wonderful team of doctors who were determined to treat my triple negative breast cancer.

How did this happen?  I had been teaching for twenty-four years, both in Florida and in Georgia. Most years I taught general education with autism inclusion.  I had raised my daughter, son, and my sister’s daughter.  They were adults pursuing their own lives in both Florida and Ohio.

The year 2020 brought the horrors of Covid to our world and cancer to me.  I had 16 rounds of chemotherapy, with the last four the “red devil” as they call it.  Next was surgery, a lumpectomy, to remove the mass and check my lymph nodes.  They were clear, praise God!  However, pathology found pre-cancerous cells which remained, so I had twenty rounds of radiation, followed by 18 weeks of chemotherapy pills and my oncologist recommended taking Tamoxifen for five years to ward off any future breast cancers.

The best part of this journey was the support I received from my husband – my unrelenting care giver, my children, and the support of my principal, colleagues, and friends.  I do not say this lightly.  They were the team who rallied around me with cards, texts, gifts, and phone calls.

So, to all my vigilant supporters, I send my sincere love and thanks.  Together with you all and my faith, we got through this!

I have had the privilege of being a Special Education Teacher for eighteen years. The past fifteen years I have been at Madison Creek Elementary (Sumner County) in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. I truly love my job as a reading and math Interventionist. There is nothing like seeing the excitement in my students’ eyes when they realize they can read. My “perfect” world was turned upside down after an annual mammogram in 2019.  I will never forget hearing those four words, “You have breast cancer.” My life felt derailed, things were out of my control. My calendar and little to do lists now had to be updated and revised. I was a mess. At just the right time, Jackie a teacher from down the hall and a breast cancer survivor walked into my classroom and gave me this verse, Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  When fear and anxiety blindsided me, this was my verse. I slowly began to relinquish that control and trust in Him. Going through cancer is hard and it will always be a part of my life. I know it has helped me see things that I would have otherwise been blind to and for that I am grateful. I am still in awe and humbled with the love and support that I received from so many including my husband, Mike and my three sons Christopher, Chandler, Chase, my daughter in law Ashton and our sweet granddaughter Ezrah. The unwavering support from my mom, sister and my entire family, friends, school and church family were a gift that I will always cherish. I look forward to always finding opportunities to show others the same compassion that I was so freely given throughout my journey. Finding a support group was also an important part of my healing. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the ABC (After Breast Cancer) community at the YMCA where I met five incredible women. Together we became stronger emotionally, physically and spiritually. Ashton, you are amazing, thank you for nominating me for this honor to celebrate with the Pink Santa Hat Movement.

KIM DORRIS

Melanie Vaughan

My name is Melanie Vaughan and I have been in education for 16 years. I have taught third, fourth, and sixth grade. I have served as a campus Math Coach, a district Math Coach, and an Assistant Principal. Currently, I am teaching sixth grade math in Conroe, TX. 

My husband, Robbie and I have been married for 26 years.  We have three children, daughter age 23, son age 21, and daughter age14. Our youngest daughter was 5 when I was diagnosed. Our oldest daughter and her husband gave us our first grandchild in July of 2020. My new name is Honey!

I went to the doctor for my annual exam at the age of 36. He told me that he wanted to get a baseline mammogram so that he would have something to compare it to when I turned 40. Well, that decision saved my life! I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer May 1, 2013. I underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy and then had my first surgery; then 30 rounds of radiation and a second surgery would follow. I tell people that this was a bump in the road. But in reality, it was a very large bump. I am so grateful to the family, friends, and doctors that they Lord put in my path. I am thankful for the people that I have been able to help due to my journey. I just ask that they Lord continue to use my journey to bring him glory. 

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Angela Strickland has been an educator for 25 years. She has served in the roles of classroom teacher, interventionist, instructional coach, assistant principal, and principal. For the 2021-22 school year, she will begin her 26th year in education and her third year as the principal of Jim Pearson Elementary School in Alexander City, Alabama. Angela also serves on the Alabama Committee for Grade Level Reading. Angela and her husband, Blake, have been married for 28 years, and they have two sons in college. They enjoy empty nesting but always look forward to regular visits with their boys! 

In late February 2021, Angela found a lump in her left breast at home. On March 15, 2021, during her Spring Break, she was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer. With the best doctors providing her care, her strong faith, and the most wonderful support system of family and friends, Angela is bravely walking through a year-long journey of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and more chemotherapy.  

#stricklandstrong

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9

Angela Strickland

Sarah Sharp

I live in rural northern California with my husband of 20 years and two teenagers.  I have taught for 8 years.  I love reading and shopping.   I teach a 4th/5th combo at a small school of 74 kids.  The best part of the small size is the amazing feeling of family. 

In November of 2020 at the age of 41, I had my first mammogram.  With no history of breast cancer or cancer of any type in my family, I didn’t give it a second thought.  They saw something and did a biopsy.  My doctor called me on December 23, 2020 and told me that the results wouldn’t be in until after the holiday.  It was the worst Christmas I have ever experienced. 

What followed was a whirlwind 6 months.  I was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a lumpectomy, went through radiation, and started hormone therapy.  My daily treatment was an hour drive from my work and the radiation caused a lot of pain.  It was the scariest time of my life, but a loving family and supportive work family helped me through it. 

I am happy that through this, I have learned to enjoy my family more. My husband and kids are the best part of my day.   I have also inspired both my sisters as well as some co-workers and parents of students to go get a mammogram.

My name is Nia Waters from Reno, Nevada. I am happily married to my husband, Stephen and we have 3 amazing children Brandon, 19; Emma, 16; and Jakob, 13. I love to spend time with my family, travel, camp, cook and spend time at the beach.  I have been teaching for 24 years in both California and Nevada. I have held many different education positions such as 4th and 5th grade teacher, literacy coach, El teacher, EL facilitator/coach, and interventionist. I am currently teaching EL at the high School level. At the age of 47, I was diagnosed with noninvasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer in February of 2019 through a routine annual mammogram. I was lucky to have it caught early. I had a lumpectomy with some lymph nodes taken out followed by radiation and currently taking meds for next 5 years to curtail recurrence. I have since had complications which led to more surgeries but as of now I am supposedly cancer free. They discovered a gene mutation (Chek2) during my treatment that is fairly new and makes my followup difficult due to lack of research, but I am optimistic this is a one and done. Educating children everyday is my relief and outlet to thinking about cancer everyday. My family, students and colleagues are my strongest support system throughout this struggle and bring much joy to my life!

Nia Waters