WINTER GARDEN — Foundation Academy teacher Patti Cogburn’s eyes well up with tears at the thought.
She’s just six weeks removed from the day doctors informed her that she has breast cancer. But, these are not tears of sorrow or fear. Rather, her heart swells with the love her school family has shown.
And she’s not alone. A second Foundation Academy teacher, Patsy Ford, received her breast-cancer diagnosis just two weeks after her colleague.
In a show of support, the school will host the 5K Patsy and Patti Care Run/Walk this Friday at the South Campus, 15304 Tilden Road, Winter Garden. Students, faculty members and the public all are welcome to participate in the event, which was organized by fellow teachers Mary Ellen Murray and Alice Colon and supported by the school’s PTO and several student organizations, including the National Honors Society and the National Art Honor Society.
All proceeds will help Cogburn, Ford and their families to offset the expenses of surgeries, treatments and any other expenses incurred.
“When we heard both teachers were diagnosed with breast cancer, we were standing in the car line, and we started thinking about what we could do to help,” Murray said. “We teach love here at school, and this is symbolic of what we teach our kids.
“Everybody has come together to really support this event, which really didn’t start until about two weeks ago,” she said. “It’s been warp-speed.”
Even before a single dime has been raised, the teachers said they already feel strengthened by their school family’s response.
“This all has been overwhelming,” Cogburn said. “It’s an unexpected — but welcomed — blessing.”
“It’s just been incredible,” she said. “I can’t even express how touching this all is. This is my second year (at Foundation), and I know God brought me here for a reason.”
Both teachers said the diagnosis wasn’t a complete shock. Although most breast cancers are not hereditary, both have family members who have battled various forms of cancer. Both had found lumps and made appointments for further examination.
Now, both will undergo bilateral mastectomies. Cogburn’s is scheduled for the day of the run/walk, while Ford’s will be Dec. 2. During the surgeries, doctors also will test their lymph nodes, and the results of those tests will determine whether further treatment — including chemotherapy and/or radiation — will be necessary.
“There are storms in life, and you’re either going into them or coming out of them,” Cogburn said. “Right now, I’m going into a storm. But, as a Christian, I am confident that Christ is with us through this. I live with the knowledge and confidence that this is just a part of my life.”
Like true teachers, both Cogburn and Ford said they have used their diagnoses as teaching tools for their students. They have been open and honest about their cancers and what the future holds and know their battles humanize the idea of breast cancer.
“I’ve been very open with my students, and I’ve received so many nice notes from parents telling me that they’re praying,” Ford said.
“It was important for me to not hide anything at all,” she said. “I want them to understand what’s going on and that it’s a part of life.
“Some kids just want to hug you,” Cogburn said. “They don’t know what to do to help, and sometimes, when they hug you, it helps them feel like everything will be OK. It makes them feel better.”
Murray said the school plans to make the run/walk an annual event that will help support teachers and staff member who are battling health issues. The school also has started a sick-day bank, in which staff members contribute days off to help their colleagues during recovery periods.