The sky was a deep, crystal blue with feathery wisps of clouds, as the pink balloon floated serenely up, up, up. Then a loud roar began as students and staff of Nadaburg Elementary School cheered – the younger ones waving handmade pink pom poms.
It was all a display of support for Mary Evitt, beloved cafeteria worker, who had only asked if the school could wear pink on this particular day to remember those who are battling, and have battled breast cancer. The response was overwhelming, with staff approaching Principal Curtis McCandlish with the idea for the celebration. He sanctioned the event and encouraged staff to add to the commemoration. Mary was overwhelmed when she learned what the staff was doing and decided to release a single balloon.
The school was a sea of pink, with many staff and students painting their hair to show support. To get a complete turnout for the balloon release, McCandlish okayed a pretend fire drill to draw everyone outside.
The school-wide gesture held a special significance for Mary. Although she wanted the event to be about all women affected by the disease, it also signified that one year ago she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and this was a celebration after she had been pronounced cancer free.
There to show their love and support were her sister Donna Fresco, Mary’s daughter Erin Bostrom and granddaughter Jeenna. Also standing by Mary during the celebration were fellow cafeteria workers Deb Connor and Shirley Wells – best friends who had been with her through doctors appointments, surgeries and dark times.
“It’s all about support – who’s there for you,” said Mary. “My family, friends and the staff and students – they’ve all been amazing. There is so much love and support and it is what’s kept me going.”
Her “rock” through the entire time was her husband Dwight, who she leaned on and drew strength from during the long, terrifying process.
Mary vividly remembers the day she learned she had cancer, being overcome by the feeling she was going to fall to the floor. It was so difficult to absorb the diagnosis, she explained, as she had always been healthy, and still felt healthy. It was a mammogram that had depicted cancer cells – enough to cause three surgeons to urge Mary to undergo a double mastectomy.
“When you’ve been told by several doctors that the most radical thing is the best chance to save your life, you do it,” said Mary, who had trouble absorbing the devastating news but agreed to the surgery.
The healing was a slow process – both emotionally and physically.
When she was released from the hospital the day after her mastectomy, her family was taught how to treat her wounds – some of it complicated for the average person, but they faithfully cared for her. They were with her constantly, reassuring her she would make it; she would come through this devastating time.
According to Donna, Mary had a difficult time having to rely on her family, seeing the weight they were carrying to help her heal.
“With everything she was going through, she was more concerned about us being tired, missing work,” remembered Donna. “She is the most amazing, loving person I know.”
As soon as she was physically well, Mary made the decision to return to work. In the midst of a relentless depression, she realized she had to fight to overcome the emotional pain.
“Somehow I felt I was living in a cloud,” she said. “My head was in this scary place and I needed something loud to distract me out of it. I knew if I didn’t get myself together it would affect my family – it wasn’t all about me. Going back to work helped so much. The kids at school helped me get my mind out of this cancer thing – the kids and staff were amazing.”
Today, even though Mary has been told all the cancer was removed, she continues to see her oncologist and reconstructive surgeon.
As she walks down the halls of Nadaburg school, children freely hug her. It is a medicine she could get nowhere else.
“Healing is all about support,” she said. “I don’t think you can go through this without it.”
Mary is a very vocal advocate for mammograms and strongly encourages everyone she comes in contact with to be timely with checkups.
“It has been a hard time,” smiled Mary. “I really feel relieved, like I’m going to be okay.”