Green Park teacher shares burden of cancer

Green Park teacher Anne Shelley's fight against cancer has included a host of tough conversations.

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Shelley walks in the Relay for Life, which was held Friday and Saturday, with her husband, Chuck.

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Green Park Elementary School student Addie Baker holds a sign in honor of her teacher, Anne Shelley, who is fighting cancer.

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One of hundreds of luminaria at Martin Field featured the name of Green Park Elementary School teacher Anne Shelley.

WALLA WALLA - "That is probably one of the hardest parts, is telling people, especially people who really care for you."

Friday, Anne Shelley stood and walked with dozens of other men and women clad in purple T-shirts to tell the world she is a cancer survivor as they walked the first lap at the opening for the Relay for Life at Martin Field.

Walking right alongside her on that first lap was her husband, Chuck, who only a few months ago was the first person she told she had cancer.

It was Feb. 25 when the doctors told Shelley.

What was supposed to have been a routine visit to review her tests turned into the revelation that the cause of her symptoms was "most likely cancer."

"I was in shock," Shelley said, noting she had come to the visit alone.

"Then when I came home and told him (Chuck), he was in shock; from that moment on he went to every doctor's appointment with me," she said.

Married six years ago, Chuck and Anne actually had dated decades before when attending Walla Walla High School, but eventually went their own ways. Both got married to other people, and both divorced.

Ironically, it was cancer that brought them back together.

Shelley had come home from Missouri because her father had cancer, and Chuck's father also had cancer.

"We met at one point when his dad had cancer, and we thought maybe we could make a go of it," she said.

After Shelley told her husband, she knew she had to tell her parents next. But she also knew it would be tough for her father, Al Worthington, who was once a teacher at Wa-Hi.

"That was very hard because my dad had gone through it, too. So he had a very hard time with it because he had to go through chemo and he knew what I would go through," she said.

Next came their sons, but the couple would wait until they were certain.

It wasn't until after a surgery the very next week that doctors confirmed it was cancer.

So now it was time to tell Brent, 20, Matthew, 17, and Jonathon, 14.

"We just sat everybody down, and we told them we had some bad news at the doctor's appointment … that was very hard to do," she said.

There were of course all the numerous acquaintances and friends and work colleagues Shelley had to tell. But it was the closest people she had the hardest time telling.

In most cases for cancer survivors, those close people are several immediate family members and friends.

Shelly, because of her profession, has extended family, so to speak, which is made up of two dozen little hearts, better known as Mrs. Shelly's first grade class at Green Park Elementary.

"That was very difficult because I had to really make sure that I told them in a way that first-graders would understand but not be scared.

"I went in and told them. They knew I had been gone a lot and had some surgery. And they found out that I was going to have some special medicine to help me get better, but the special medicine would make me sick. And because of that they had a substitute teacher.

"I told them even though the medicine would make me very sick, I was doing this because it would make me better," she said.

But 6-year-olds have a way of ferreting out the truth with their candid questions and honest responses.

"Finally one of the kids asked what I had, and I said I had cancer. And one of the kids, Kaiden, said, ‘Cancer. My grandpa had cancer and he died.' And I said, ‘Oh. Well Kaiden, you don't have to worry because I am not going to die. And I am taking care of it and I feel good,'" Shelley said.

That was the beginning of March; it would take almost two months before Shelley would be able to prove to Kaiden that she was still alive, when she came back to school to teach again.

Shelley recalled that first day in late April. As expected, all the kids wanted to greet her with proper etiquette for a 6-year-old.

"First of all they all wanted to come hug me," she said. But the teach had to tell the 24 "beaming" school children the hugs would have to wait until she had recovered from her surgery.

"That was really hard on them, that I had to tell them that I couldn't give them hugs right now," she said.

The days went by, and so did the weeks. Shelley taught in the afternoons, but not on the days she had chemo.

Eventually she recovered enough from her surgery so that one day she was finally able to dole out what her kids needed the most, but only from one side of her body.

"It was about seven weeks when I could finally give them hugs. And they were so excited. And I have only one side I could hug on. And the kids learned, and they were really good about coming up on my right side," she said.

There was also the risk of infection from all her first-graders, but they took to heart the lessons on germs that they were given, and dutifully washed their hands when asked.

"We were very sanitary, I explained to them that the medicine made it easier for me to catch things," she said.

In spite of all the side effects, Shelley managed to teach part-time through the end of the year, including the last day of school.

This Thursday will mark her halfway point in her chemo treatment; Aug. 18 will be the last treatment.

Just in time for school.

"I already have a class assigned to me, and I already have kids in my class. So I am excited," she said. Then finished, "It really makes you look at life differently. I feel like I am a faithful person, and it has really grounded me, and it has made me take time each day to look around and really enjoy each day."

No doubt, that includes enjoying each child, too.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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