Jessica Powers, a grade two teacher at Glenbow Elementary School and her student Ella Reimer have a most unique bond. Both are cancer survivors.
The pair who immediately became kindred spirits are now teaming up with the rest of Powers' grade two class to raise money for Kids Cancer Care and the Alberta Cancer Foundation,
"I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 2020. So I was teaching online school, dealing with doctors and surgeons, appointments and different scans and tests at the same time." Powers said. "When Ella was in grade one and I was teaching grade two in the class beside her. She and I kind of connected last year and established a relationship and then very, fortunately, I was able to get her in my grade two class this year."
Powers has survived cancer twice in her life now as she was previously diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2008. She said that throughout the year she and Ella shared their journey with their class openly and on many occasions, the class celebrated and honoured their teacher and peer.
"In September, it was Kids Cancer Awareness Month, so our class tried to wear yellow or gold every Friday, to honour all the children who have cancer or who have fought cancer," she said. "We celebrated that way with Ella. Ella was really open about talking to our class about some of the things that she'd gone through."
On one of the very first days of school, Ella brought her favourite teacher a token of appreciation.
"They came in and brought me a sweatshirt in front of all the kids. I was holding back tears as this little peanut was handing me this sweatshirt. So right from the very beginning of the year, our class was really open about talking about cancers and about different difficulties people had gone through and then just things kind of ballooned from there."
On March 14th, Ella will be cutting her teacher's hair and the proceeds will be divided up between the organizations that have helped Ella and her teacher - Kids Cancer Care and the Alberta Cancer Foundation.
"My class was pretty excited. They've done some pretty amazing art this year and we had an idea that we could create heart art cards," Powers said. "We're printing these beautiful art cards, and proceeds from those are going to be split evenly between the two organizations as well."
Christie Reimer, Ella's mom said because her daughter missed out on so much during the earlier years of her life, she now revels in going to school.
"Ella loves her teacher, she just lights up when she talks about her teacher and I think it speaks volumes of what kind of teacher and person Mrs. Powers is," she said. "She loves school, she'll go to school all day and come home and play school. She's thrived."
Ella was diagnosed at two-and-half years old with brain cancer.
"Within the first month of her diagnosis, she had three brain surgeries and she had to learn how to do everything all over again," Reimer said. "She had to learn how to sit up, she had to learn how to eat, how to walk. That was all throughout her preschool years."
Ella's health would not allow her to go to preschool, meaning she missed out on all the interactions with her peers and friends. However, her mother underlined one of the saving graces for Ella and her family were programs run by Kids Cancer Care.
"That was where she first started being able to connect to other kids; people going through what she was going through," Reimer said. "These programs 100 per cent made us feel less isolated. They are built specifically for families going through cancer. If these [programs] weren't there she wouldn't have had any type of normalcy."
Today, Ella's health is stable, though her mother spoke candidly about the toll it takes on her, having watched her little girl fight to survive.
"You just learn to survive. You get through it because you have to. The kids are the ones who are strong."
And although Ella's teacher, who exudes a bubbly personality and fervour when she speaks of her class and Ella, she also admits there are trying moments, though she has found solace in a family motto.
"Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of why me? Why is this happening? Why did I get cancer two times," she said. "My granny, who has since passed away, really instilled in us from the time we were born, to just count your blessings. There's always going to be something crummy happening. So I was really, really thankful for my amazing family, my friends and my the school staff here and my community. I just used that to give me strength."
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