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Tying the pink ribbon

Killough teacher overcomes breast cancer

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Special education teacher and cancer survivor Mary Andes holds a breast cancer awareness ribbon.

Special education teacher and cancer survivor Mary Andes holds a breast cancer awareness ribbon.

Photo by Anna Velazquez

Photo by Anna Velazquez

Special education teacher and cancer survivor Mary Andes holds a breast cancer awareness ribbon.

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A single phone call changes her as a person. Tears run down her face but she has no intention of brushing them off. She’s frozen in shock. There’s only one word circling her mind. Cancer.

Special education teacher Mary Andes was diagnosed with breast cancer on Feb. 20, 2017 after pulling a muscle while working out with her husband. If it hadn’t been for that doctor’s appointment, the tumor would have continued to go unnoticed. By the time she had surgery the cancer had already spread and she had three tumors.

Life is all about choices and how we react to them.”

— Mary Andes

“The day I found out I had breast cancer was a holiday for our district,” Mary said. “That was a difficult morning trying to explain and prepare our six children for the difficult times that were ahead of us.”

Mary’s colleagues were also devastated by the news. They wanted nothing more than to help her have a quick recovery.

“We are a family and one of our family members was hit with a crisis,” assistant principal Heather Garrison said. “We all have the desire to protect those we cherish from any harm, pain or tragedy, but in this case we could not protect Ms. Andes, so we supported her.”

Despite having cancer, Mary made a decision to push forward and make the most out of every situation. She decided to find happiness in the little things in life.

“Life is all about choices and how we react to them,” Mary said. “I would say that I could have given up after round three of chemo, my body didn’t have a lot of fight left but I couldn’t give up.”

Mary put a lot of effort into maintaining a positive attitude but there were days where she was overcome by physical and emotional exhaustion.

“It was hard to get out of bed sometimes to be a mom and wife,” Mary said. “There were several days where I wanted to pull the covers over my head and let the world exist without me.”

Every morning I woke up and made a choice, a choice to be grateful for a new day regardless of the situation that I have been given, regardless of the hardships that I was facing, regardless of the chemo that was about to be injected into my body.”

— Mary Andes

Emotional support played an extremely important role in Mary’s recovery. She would not be where she is without her family, including her husband Jeremy Andes who was by her side throughout her battle with cancer.

“I took time to ensure that I was present at every appointment possible that she had,” Jeremy said. “As her husband it was humbling to know that the only thing I could do for her and her disease was to be present, to be a source of love, hope and comfort.”

Mary’s colleagues, students and love for her profession were major sources of motivation and she was ecstatic to return to teaching. The day Mary returned to work, everyone at school was overjoyed to have her back.

“Ms. Andes’ first day back was a celebration,” Heather said. “To see her smiling face, and watch the interaction she had with her students was incredible.”

After finishing her cancer treatment and being announced cancer-free, Mary and her family aspire to become advocates for breast cancer awareness. She wants to teach others that while life isn’t perfect and the circumstances aren’t always ideal, happiness is always possible.

“Every morning I woke up and made a choice, a choice to be grateful for a new day regardless of the situation that I have been given, regardless of the hardships that I was facing, regardless of the chemo that was about to be injected into my body,” Mary said. “I was grateful because I woke up and was given another day to do the things I love and be around the people I love.”

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