Windermere Prep teacher continues educating while battling cancer
Despite a breast-cancer diagnosis, Sabrina King finds inspiration and strength in continuing to teach her fifth-graders at Windermere Preparatory School.
| 12:21 p.m. January 27, 2021
Since she was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer, Sabrina King has embarked on the battle of a lifetime.
She underwent a double mastectomy and recently completed a three-month round of chemotherapy.
And she has done it all while continuing to teach her Windermere Preparatory School fifth-graders during a pandemic.
From the beginning of her 23-year teaching career, King set out to inspire her students and help them find their strengths. What she didn’t realize was her students one day would be the ones inspiring and uplifting her.
Since her July 2020 diagnosis, King and her family, along with the help of the Windermere Prep community, have been focused on kicking cancer to the curb. On Jan. 18, she got to ring the bell signifying the end of chemotherapy and the first part of her journey.
As the next part begins, King takes comfort in knowing her school community, family and friends will continue to be her support system.
HEART OF A TEACHER
King realized early on in her life that teaching was her true calling.
Going through school, she was conscientious of the other students around her and noticed they all had different learning styles. The “cookie-cutter classroom,” she said, didn’t give students who struggled a fighting chance.
“I knew that I wanted to be that teacher that would help all students find their strengths and focus on their abilities so that they could learn and grow from that,” King said. “There’s nothing more in the world that I want to do than just nurture students’ intellectual, social and emotional growth by giving them those hands-on experiences that a lot of times we didn’t get when we were young.”
Now in her 23rd year of teaching, King continues doing so because she loves inspiring each child to be ambitious by creating an environment that lets them explore and grow.
“It gives me purpose,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
King has been at Windermere Prep for three years and loves the family atmosphere it fosters.
“Everyone (who is) part of that community — whether it’s the administrators, the staff, the parents, the students — they all just really care about each other,” she said. “It’s a very diverse school that focuses on the whole child. … I like to say that learning has no limits at Windermere Prep.”
She added that fifth grade is one of her favorites to teach because she can make learning enjoyable yet challenging enough to keep each student on his or her toes, eager to learn more.
“The students at this point are moving more from concrete skills to more abstract skills, so it’s really neat to watch them rise to that challenge and kind of find their independence,” she said.
JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME
While King was preparing to welcome her students back to the classroom last July, she received the devastating call about her cancer diagnosis.
Her medical team worked quickly to create a plan of attack. First it was the double mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy. Now, that team is making plans for two more surgeries and a decision on which endocrine therapy she will undergo for the next decade.
However, the decision of whether to continue teaching for the 2020-21 school year was a no-brainer.
“I was really nervous about the impact that my diagnosis was going to have on my quality of life and particularly my ability to work,” King said. “I knew right away that this diagnosis was not going to stop me from continuing on my mission. I have a class full of fifth-graders that I always say have a ringside seat to my journey, so I knew that I needed to portray strength and stability for them — not just for me. … To continue teaching while battling cancer seems really daunting, but I knew that if I kept some normalcy in my life, it would help me cope with the illness and improve my outlook.”
King is teaching virtually this year, but technology has been a major asset in keeping her connected to her students. Windermere Prep hired a long-term substitute teacher to be present in the classroom, and King gets to collaborate with her to form lesson plans, projects and hands-on experiences for the students.
“It has been so rewarding for me just to be able to connect with my students and not only discover how to continue teaching while I’m going through something difficult, but also to make that classroom a helpful, supportive place for them, as well,” she said. “They’re kind of experiencing this journey with me, in a way.”
King gets emotional when talking about the ways her network — family, friends and the Windermere Prep community — have stepped up to support and walk alongside her as she fights this battle.
“Throughout the whole journey, I’ve had an awesome network of people that have all shared this motto of, ‘We’re going to get through this together. Whatever you need, we’re going to make sure that we get you through it,’” she said. “I feel so blessed that the Windermere Prep administrators and my colleagues especially were able to support me so that I could face this challenge and still teach and touch the lives of my students. They helped me take it one day at a time, and they rode the ups and downs with me.”
Also along for the ride are King’s students — her constant motivation and inspiration. Each day, there’s something new from them and their families: a note, a card, artwork, photos, flowers and other small gifts of encouragement. She keeps them around her house, and they make her smile on the bad days.
“To continue teaching while battling cancer seems really daunting, but I knew that if I kept some normalcy in my life, it would help me cope with the illness and improve my outlook.” — Sabrina King
King’s family — immediate and extended — is her rock. Her husband, Jason King, is the director of fine arts at Windermere Prep, and she said he has kept her anchored.
“My husband has been doing an amazing job wearing all the hats he needed — to be working full time, be a caregiver for me and support the kids,” she said. “He has never wavered, and I’m not sure how he’s done it.”
Their children, Alexis and Landyn — who are in 11th and sixth grades, respectively, at Windermere Prep — have also jumped aboard to ride the rollercoaster as a family. In fact, Alexis has been doing school virtually for most of the year to be home with her mother and even go to chemo treatments with her.
Sabrina King’s biggest inspiration, though, is her late mother, who was a nurse.
“If there was anyone who was more perfect to have walked me through this journey, it would’ve been her,” Sabrina King said. “Even through this whole thing (when) she’s not here with us, I have remembered every word and lesson she ever taught me about life and how to overcome a challenge, and I look to her advice every single day.”
She has her own words of advice, too, for anyone who might be going through a similar situation.
“I want them to remember that even though they might be going through something tough, they, too, can use it for good and have a positive influence on others and the world around them — just through their own actions of fighting the good fight and continuing on,” she said.