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

Rita Thomas

Rita Thomas was diagnosed on May 25, 2005 with triple negative, aggressive, inflammatory breast cancer. That diagnosis was the beginning of a harrowing journey up and down Highway 59. Because it was late stage when diagnosed, stage 3B, local physicians thought it best to refer treatment to M D Anderson Cancer Treatment Center in Houston, Texas. The treatment plan was touch and go for the most part, none of the traditional breast cancer treatment plans worked, the tumor even grew through one of them. After 2 failed attempts, the oncologist, radiologist and surgeon conferred and decided on a trial drug to be administered along with radiation. Finally, the tumor shrank enough for surgery. Rita underwent a radically modified mastectomy on March 3, 2006 and was declared cancer free, only to be diagnosed again 3 months later. The second diagnosis was a much faster process than the first and all treatment and surgery was complete by December 2006.

Today, Rita, after a two-time battle with breast cancer, victoriously celebrates 15 years cancer free. She walked away from the experience determined that if she had to fight for her life, then her life needed to be worth fighting for. She lives a full life as a wife, mother, grandmother, college professor and Evangelist.

As a survivor she is an active participant in breast cancer awareness and shares her testimony often. In 2018 she started a nonprofit organization, Faces of Hope, that celebrates, educates and supports women who have been diagnosed with the disease.

My very first mammogram. My mind was falling of the rails. There was no way that this diagnosis was happening to me. I received the letter to contact my physician as my mammogram showed an irregularity in May of 2010. I had my bilateral mastectomy in July of 2010. Despite the lose of lymph nodes and a lymphedema diagnosis, I survived. Later, my body would reject my implants: four surgeries later, I survived. I lost my hair and had a hard time rocking the bald at school. Amazingly enough, my students are the ones that convinced me to take off the hat. They were encouraging, providing me with optimism, and most importantly, honesty. I worked through chemo, six strong rounds. My students were there for me. I will never forget those kiddos. There were so many people that grew with me through this journey. 

I am a survivor and my story doesn’t end here. I am in remission- 10 years! I am still writing my story.

Lynn Gregory

Kathleen Bieritz

Kathleen is no stranger to challenges. Throughout her life, she has set goals that required dedication and commitment to reach. From a career change in her 40’s which resulted in her position as an Elementary School Library Information Specialist in District 129 in Aurora, IL, to National Board Certification, to running 5k’s, 10k’s, half marathons and even a couple of marathons, she is consistently training and learning for what’s next in life.

She is also no stranger to cancer. With a family history of various types of the disease, she had knowledge and resources to call upon when she received a breast cancer diagnosis for her 60th birthday. Not everyone is lucky enough to get this kind of birthday present, but it has helped me focus on what is really important in life and that is the people (family, friends, and colleagues) who surround me.

Her support team throughout treatment – which included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation – was the same group of friends and family who cheered her on or trained alongside her for two marathons. Most notable among them are best friends Carrie Mills and Teralyn Gifford, who also partnered with Kathleen to complete the Dopey Challenge race series in January 2018. If you’re not familiar with the Dopey Challenge, Google it; it’s almost 50 miles of racing in one weekend.

Kathleen’s dedication to health kept her moving throughout treatment, walking five or more miles every day, with the rare exception of a few days immediately following surgery. “I’m so grateful to everyone who has come along on this journey with me,” she says. “Whether they have prayed for me, visited me, brought meals over or checked in with a call or text, having a network of people who support and encourage me has kept me going during the hardest, darkest moments. I am determined to find joy in this journey and come out on the other side a better version of me.” 

An avid reader, Kathleen generally has two or three books on her nightstand at any given time. She is excited to return to school and share her love of reading and knowledge in person with students in August 2021.

My name is DeNita Boyd, and I am a native Houstonian. I am married to Dr. J. Wesley Boyd III, who is also an educator. I am the proud mother of two awesome and amazing girls, Nevaeh, 7, and Arianna, 5, and the bonus mom of two amazing women, Charity, 23, and Christian, 21. My career in education began 26 years ago and includes working as a substitute teacher, math teacher, instructional coach, and currently assistant principal.

My journey with breast cancer started with my mom, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39. I didn’t know much about breast cancer nor thought much about it until my mom was diagnosed. There had been no prior experiences with breast cancer or any terminal diseases in our family, and it was shocking to learn what she had to go through with the treatment options. I watched my mom go through a lot, from radical mastectomy to various rounds of Chemo and radiation. I saw cancer take my strong mother from being the backbone of our family to needing assistance from others.

Watching my mom’s battle caused me to start having yearly mammograms at the age of 24. I wanted to ensure that I did not wait and be informed because I learned that early detection could lead to a cure. I started the breast ultrasound in 2011 because of something that looked suspicious on my left breast; in 2011, they said that it was nothing to be concerned about, but they wanted me to have a follow-up in six months. Well, as it goes, I was consumed with working full time and taking graduate courses towards earning my Master of Education Administration degree. Time and busyness got the best of me, and I forgot. On October 19, 2012, I went in for a routine mammogram and breast ultrasound, and I knew something was amiss because it took longer than usual. They kept wanting to shoot image after image because they wanted to see a more magnified look to see if what they saw was just a fluid pocket or solid and something they wanted to have biopsied. I had a feeling that something was not right, but I was optimistic, and I was standing on Faith that God was in control of the situation. As it happened, on November 2nd, I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, and from there, it was a two-month whirlwind of MRI, CT scans, and doctors’ appointments.

I encouraged myself daily by quoting the word of God on my life and my situation. I would often remind myself that to have a Testimony, I must have a Test, for Him to Deliver me, I must be bound, and for me to receive a Miracle, I must be in a place where a miracle is needed.

So, there I was, 41, diagnosed with Stage 1A breast cancer, and I still believed God for my healing. I stood on Tiptoe expectation with my neck stretched, and my eyes bucked at what God was going to do through me during that season in my life. I decided to have a Bi-lateral mastectomy, which turned out to be the best decision for me. The mammogram detected two tumors, the breast MRI detected a third suspicious tumor, and they found a fourth tumor during surgery.

I am thankful for the love and support of my family, church, and colleagues. I often say, “You can’t choose your circumstances, but you can choose to overcome them.”

DeNita Boyd

Angela Williams

My name is Angela Rose Williams.  I am an ESOL teacher at Hapeville Elementary School in Hapeville, GA. I have been an educator most of my adult life and I have taught in Louisiana, Georgia, and Dubai.  I am the caretaker of my 85-year-old mother, who is the personification of unconditional love.  I have 2 older brothers, 2 nephews, 2 nieces, and friendly Pitbull named Bruno. 

My diagnosis came 3 years after I had an initial scare that was benign. I thought I had dodged a bullet but in July 2020, I felt a lump and this time it was different.  On August 10, 2020, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.  I sat in my car and cried and cursed and prayed. I reached out to my closest friends and shared the news and they immediately embraced me and reassured me that I would be ok. Slowly, my powerful support system kicked in. My family, my friends, and my loved ones stepped up and stood in the gap for me. During my 4 rounds of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and 30 sessions of radiation, I always felt their presence even though COVID-19 restrictions would not allow it. And of course, God was there. He is always there.  He orchestrated things in my life like only He could.

Through this journey I have become my own advocate, a role that I didn’t think I had the strength for. I am stronger, wiser and a little more fearless.  Cancer doesn’t just happen to the person who receives the diagnosis.  It effects family and friends and co-workers.  And the acts of love and kindness I received from all those people is what has sustained me.  I am thankful to them and to God for holding me up during one of the most difficult times in my life.

And now I am ready to see what the next 53 years has in store or me.