“A friend is the hope of the heart,” Ralph Waldo Emerson so eloquently said. And the hope in the hearts of the fourth grade students of their teacher, Colleen Buchauer, was that she would know that they would love her forever. Love and hope went hand in hand in their lives and are naturally deep-rooted human needs. The symbol of their special love for Colleen came in the form of hats….simple, white painter’s hats. They were the symbol of love and empathy for Colleen as she gallantly fought breast cancer.
Colleen was diagnosed with a rare form of inflammatory breast cancer. It can be overlooked because the initial change to the body is in not in the typical form of a lump. Swelling and a rash are indicative of this type of cancer.
I once interviewed Colleen for my newspaper column. She had expressed that the elementary school where she taught was “the most wonderful, loving school. I am so blessed to have their support. I love my job. It is a dream job and I have a dream class. It is one of the things that have saved me! Being here makes me feel better!” On the days that followed her chemotherapy treatments, volunteers came in to teach her class, including retired teachers who had previously taught there. Colleen is pleased that in spite of her illness, the level of her instruction and education never wavered…thanks to her cherished friends.
Colleen’s initial words to me were, “This story really should not be about me. It should be about the children, the teachers and their support.” The teachers at the school where she taught were trying to find a way to show their love and support for Colleen. Two of the teachers said they would save their heads, but as appreciative as she was, Colleen said that really was not necessary. They came up with an even better all-inclusive plan. The teachers, as well as the fourth grade students, decided to wear hats to show their support. They were designed, painted and personalized by the children in any way they wished. Because their school had a uniform policy, they had to go before the School Improvement Team to get permission to wear the hats on school property. The hats were readily approved and the plan was executed. First Union Bank donated the hats for the cause. Some of the brightly decorated hats said such things as, “Go Mrs. Buchauer!” or “We Love You, Mrs. Buchauer!” It is a daily constant reminder to Colleen that she is cherished by her devoted friends and students. They have made every effort to let Colleen know that she is not alone.
Every Friday a different grade sent meals for her family. Her students, as well as, her previous classes continued to reach out to her. One particularly touching incident came from a past student of Colleen’s who was an eighth grader at another school at the time. When hearing of Colleen’s illness, she wanted her to know that she was thinking of her. She had her mother drop her off at school before going to her own school early one morning. She presented Colleen with a beautiful red hat; however, the even greater gift was the love and the effort behind the loving gesture. It brought tears to Colleen’s eyes as she spoke of it. Obviously, Colleen had made a permanent imprint on this girl’s heart and soul, as well as, countless others who appreciated her as an excellent teacher and friend.
With heaping portions of pure grit, gumption, an undeniable positive attitude, and the power of prayer, she felt her disease could be conquered. She said, “I’m pretty stubborn and I’m going to beat this. I refuse to accept any other outcome.” It was inspiring to listen to Colleen speak of her serious illness, yet at the same time having a look of peaceful joy on her face as she laughed and smiled throughout our talk. She said, “I feel like I’m on a journey. It is one that I did not choose, but it has been chosen for me. My attitude on life has changed. We tend to get so caught up in our busy lives we take feeling good for granted. I know to be grateful when I have a day when I just feel good. And that’s enough.”
Colleen died in the spring of 2005. Her beautiful spirit lives on in the lives of the ones she touched so deeply along the way. So, as you go about your days, remind yourself of Colleen’s valiant fight, Work towards patterning your days with an ingrained positive attitude and strong inner well-being.