Last March, everyone noticed a change at Chamberlin Elementary School.
Special educator Cindy Tan said that for the first time in over 40 years, teacher Kathy Buley wasn’t around the halls greeting her colleagues and lending her usual helping hand. Instead, she was moving to her son’s home in Massachusetts to be closer to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she is currently receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer.
“We’re like a family at Chamberlin,” Tan said. “We think of it as a member of our family is having this fight for her life.”
Third-grade teacher Keelin Simpson has worked closely with Buley for roughly 20 years. In that time, she’s found Buley to be a caring and helpful co-worker.
“She is just an absolute gem, the loveliest person to work with,” Simpson said. “She’s so generous with her time.”
But last February, Buley noticed something was not right. She was in her classroom and got very tired.
“I was just so fatigued, actually my colleagues became concerned,” she recalled. They encouraged her to go to the emergency room, where she learned she had stage four pancreatic cancer. Consequently, she was bleeding internally. Subsequently, she received four life-saving blood transfusions
Buley’s diagnosis stunned her co-workers.
“We were just so shocked and surprised,” Simpson said. “It was just so sad.”
But, Simpson said, it didn’t change Buley’s positive disposition. In fact, her experience motivated an altruistic request: host a blood drive to help others in need.
“When you reflect on something like that … that someone had taken the time to go and donate this blood that was saving my life … I was so appreciative,” Buley said. She added the outpouring of support from her colleagues was humbling and she was grateful they accepted her request to donate blood. However, she was happily surprised when Tan took it a step further and began organizing a blood drive through the American Red Cross to be held at Chamberlin.
“Cindy just ran with it, as she will do,” Buley said. “She’s a wonderful organizer.”
The drive is set for Oct. 1 from 12-6 p.m. in the Chamberlin School gymnasium. Blood donations can take as little as 30 minutes with an appointment, according to Tan. Those interested in donating can check their eligibility and sign up at the American Red Cross website, entering CHAMBERLIN as the sponsor. Walk-ins will also be welcome at the event. Organizers hope to get 100 donors, Tan said.
“If they were to reach that goal, the ripple effect of 100 people donating blood is just amazing,” Buley said. One blood donation can save up to three lives, according to the American Red Cross website. But regardless of the final tally, Buley is thankful for her co-workers’ support.
“You go day-to-day just living and appreciating that you work in a wonderful place,” she said. “But when you see it in action and on a personal level, it’s a whole other thing. I just love them all and ... thank them for being with me on this journey.”
Thus far, Buley’s treatment is going well, Simpson said. She attributes that to Buley’s positive outlook and family support.
“Kathy’s approach has just been so positive,” Simpson said. “I think we’ve shed more tears than her.”
Indeed, doctors told Buley that patients receiving her treatment only respond about 30 percent of the time, but they’ve told her she’s responding very well. Every other week, she goes to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for Chemotherapy treatment, with hydration in between.
“I just couldn’t be more appreciative of the support of everyone,” she said. “I’m absolutely sure it has helped me maintain a good attitude and helped me on this journey.”
And though Buley isn’t around Chamberlin this year, she’s been sure to keep in touch.
“You would think we would be missing her, but her presence is still here,” Simpson said, adding Buley has not only kept in touch with her colleagues, but volunteered whatever assistance she can via the phone.
“That’s just how giving she is,” Simpson said. “She’s always thinking of everyone else.”
Simpson said she’s already signed up to donate blood on the first. She and the rest of the Chamberlin community know it’ll mean a great deal to Buley.
“She’s just going to be overwhelmed with gratitude,” Simpson said. “She’s going to be tickled pink.”
Back at the school, colleagues and students have taken to calling themselves KB (Kathy Buley) Strong. They’re all rooting for Buley’s fast and full recovery. While everyone misses having Buley in Vermont, Simpson said they are with her in spirit.
And Buley said she feels their support.
“I’ve gone through many generations of families, it’s just been such a wonderful and enriching experience,” Buley said. “I look back at it with a feeling I’ve just had such a blessed career.”