Even seasoned professionals like all of us reading these pages are the first to admit that despite our greatest preparations, creativity and planning, very often the most important lessons in life are not learned in the classroom at all. I love the quote, “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he just let me watch him and learn.” I’m sure we all have wonderful souls like that in our lives, and I am blessed to have many more than one. Chris Bertha, our school secretary and office administrator “extraordinaire” is one of those people in my life. She is a very recent breast cancer survivor and it is my pleasure to pay her tribute.
In her own words, she was, to say the least, devastated by the diagnosis of breast cancer. She said she was first in shock, followed with the intense fear of the unknown and the pain ahead of her. Looking back, she says she was sure of only one thing: that she didn’t have the strength to go through the Herculean process of cancer treatment. But it goes to say that one of the very first lessons cancer teaches you is that you never realize how strong you are until put to the test. She immediately underwent two consecutive surgeries to prepare for the poisonous chemotherapy, which is literally bringing your body as close to death as possible.
Chris refers to our building as her “school family.” And a family we are. I organized a dinner rotation for her family, and, as the chemo tore through her body, it obliterated her appetite and often gave her incredibly painful mouth sores. So the last thing she wanted to worry about was cooking a dinner for her husband and son, and naturally, that made her feel guilty! So the dinners at least eliminated that one problem, and her “partner in crime,” Kim, the other office expert, would often even drop them off on the days Chris couldn’t make it into school. Our physical education and health educator gave Chris her “premier” parking spot since walking was also very painful. Chris goes on to say that the shoulders to cry on and the ears that listened, as well as the encouragement and understanding at our school, was priceless.
Following the chemo, she also had to endure seven weeks of radiation, which burned her skin terribly and left her with dangerously low energy amounts. Despite all this physical and emotional brutality, Danielle, our second grade educator vehemently insists that “even when she wasn’t at 100 percent, she always gave 100 percent.” And Joanne, a school aid, went on to describe her as an “inspiration with her don’t-quit attitude.”
Chris’ smile is now always mentioned when we think about these days. Kristin and Jaime, primary grade teachers both, claim that “in her darkest hours, she always gave you a smile, even when she didn’t feel like smiling herself.” Personally, I was going through a difficult divorce at the height of the time when Chris was going through her treatment, and she would let me rant and rave, and then without fail and without even saying a word, I would humbly put my priorities back in order. Another peer of mine, Kristi, felt a similar way when she described Chris as, “a calm to the sometimes overwhelming chaos in our office”.
But perhaps it is apropos that one of our speech specialists seems to sum it up simply the best by saying, “We are fortunate to have her….still. Today, Chris is finished with treatment… and healthy.”
So with these thoughts in mind during this month of breast cancer awareness, take the time to let another “pink” survivor know how grateful you are that they are one, too.