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Educator’s journey through cancer a learning tool in the classroom

Gail MacDougall has her head signed during the school's Terry Fox Run activities.

Gail MacDougall has her head signed during the school’s Terry Fox Run activities.

When Gail MacDougall was diagnosed with breast cancer in March, she took her career with the Algonquin and Lakeshore District School Board to heart and turned her experience into a learning tool.

The students at St. Gregory elementary school in Picton showed open hearts and open minds learning about the journey of their school’s Learning Resource Assistant, now on leave.

“I had an open discussion with the classes about my diagnosis, surgery and the effects of chemo and radiation treatments,” said MacDougall. “Many students share that family members are ‘just finished chemo’, ‘starting radiation’ or that their grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, best friend’s dad died of cancer or say ‘my dog has cancer’.”

She told them three tumours were removed during a day surgery in mid-April, one of which was sent to California as part of a study to help determine the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

The students, MacDougall says, help sustain her with cards and prayers.

The students, MacDougall says, help sustain her with cards and prayers.

“Students responded with questions and shared their own family stories. I was privileged to have an intermediate student share his recollection of his mother’s death to cancer when he was quite young. He felt the memory too harsh to discuss with immediate family. He also shared his good memories.”

The students, MacDougall says, help sustain her with cards and prayers.

“Besides the hugs, cards and meals, the staff have also had many fundraisers to help with additional costs of travel, medications and just day-to-day stuff that happens when you are going through treatments.

At the school’s annual Terry Fox Run this year MacDougall was also thinking of her sister who died of breast cancer in 1990. And because she has develped a strong sense of family within the workplace, she, and Bill Thompson and Liz Halle organized the ninth annual event with fun in mind.

Students raised funds for the honour of throwing flour pies at two intermediate students who volunteered their faces in honour of people they knew who battled cancer.

The students enjoyed watermelon and participated in draws for gifts donated by staff and local businesses. Students who pledged $50 in fundraising were allowed to sign MacDougall’s bald head and all those who filled in pledge forms were entered into a provincial draw for a bicycle.

Amber Saunders raised money because “I knew people would need it so they wouldn’t have to go through what Terry did.

MacDougall takes great delight with the openess of the subject with the students.

|”When I returned after my surgery they said ‘Look, she’s fixed’  (kindergarten student); ‘When you get your radiation can you climb walls like Spiderman? (Grade 2 student); and ‘So, how’s your cancer doing? (Grade 4).

St. Gregory students on their Terry Fox Run route.

St. Gregory students on their Terry Fox Run route.

flourpieguys

Students raised funds for the honour of throwing flour pies at two intermediate students who volunteered their faces in honour of people they knew who battled cancer.

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  1. Lesley Kendall says:

    Keep strong and courageous my friend! Thank you for your inspiration!

  2. Pam and Sam says:

    Gail, you are an inspiration and have remarkably managed to share your personal experience in such a way that young ones can get it and connect with. That’s pretty special.

  3. Pat Sklad says:

    You are one very special lady it has been very inspiring to be your friend for thirty odd years keep up your positive attitude.

  4. Ruth & Will Davies says:

    Gail, what a generous person and beautiful soul you truly are.

  5. Pat Marshall says:

    You are wonderful, Mary Gail.
    Always keeping you in the Light.
    Love,
    Pat (Marshall)

  6. Linda says:

    Sis … you are one fantastic lady. I love you and
    admire you so much. Keep on keeping on and sharing the great message of hope and joy!
    Your big Sis!

  7. Alice and Dave Carberry says:

    Gail you are an inspiration. When someone touches people’s lives the way you have, good things happen. Our prayers are with you and the children you work with.
    Love Alice and Dave

  8. Sheila Eagen says:

    If anyone could turn your journey into something positive, it would be you Gail! XXOO

  9. Heath Cockburn says:

    My Mom is the best! I could not be more proud of you
    Heath

  10. Lisa & Grace Heaney says:

    Gail, we just want to say we think you are wonderful and a true wonder. You are one of those unique people who inspire others and you continue to do so in good times and not so good. We wanted you to know you are in our thoughts.

  11. Tammy Stewart(Haennel) says:

    Gail….You are a Survivor!!!

    I met you are my neice’s First Communion (Sarah Haennel) awhile back. I think that it is wonderful how you are taking your experience and sharing with the students. It is very important for kids to know that Cancer isn’t always scary.

    I am also a survivor!!!

  12. Pam Boone says:

    You are an amazing woman Gail. I have thought of you often over the past few months and you have been in my prayers. Stay strong!!

  13. Lori Cairns says:

    All the best to you, Gail! You are one strong woman.

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