math teacher Malone says his blessings are multiplying | Local

DEBORAH BUCKHALTER

Dena Davis, a math teacher at Malone Middle School, and her husband Bobby Davis recently sat down for a photo taken by her niece, Kirsti Harris. In it, they are seated outside in two special chairs that have been moved across the lawn just long enough for Harris to take this photo under sunny skies on a recent day.

The chairs had been beloved pieces of furniture in Dena’s grandmother’s house while Dena was growing up, and then in her own as she raised her children, her sons Gentry and Hunter Ward, and her daughter, Breanna Raez.

In this photo, she looks different than she did the last time her students saw her at the head of the class a few weeks before Christmas 2021.

At the time, she had long blonde hair. Now his head is shaved.

It’s something her cousin did for her a few weeks ago. She had her hair cut fairly short for the first time after she began receiving aggressive ‘Red Devil’ treatments and other types of chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer discovered during a mammogram last November. She has an aggressive, rapidly progressing type of cancer – her 2020 mammogram had come back with no problems.

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When her hair started to fall out more than a little, she then cut it again, buzzing it to a buzz cut style length. But as the treatments progressed and her hair continued to be affected, she decided to shave it off rather than go through the gradual and emotionally devastating process of it continuing to deteriorate with clumps coming off all at once.

Taking that control, she said, was important at a time when so many other things in her life were suddenly beyond her say.

Sometimes, she says, she barely recognizes the image in the mirror – her hair had been an important part of her identity. But she knows the decision was the right one for her.

Making that call was just one of the tough choices Davis has had to face since learning she had cancer. This one pales in comparison to some of the others.

His youngest son, Hunter, has Down syndrome and the stress of being sick became too much to put on him day in and day out at home where he could see the trauma of his medical battles, realized Davis. He was upset most of the time.

So now he’s temporarily living with his sister’s husband, Mario Raez, in South Carolina. Although Dena’s son-in-law is still in this condition, he plans to move himself and Hunter here as soon as he can to reunite with his wife, Dena’s daughter, Breanna. The daughter had been here with her mother for a long time after falling ill. When a job opened up in her field at Chipola College, Breanna moved here ahead of her husband to take that job and be near her mother for the long term.

Hunter was in his senior year at Hope School when his mother fell ill and was on the school’s award-winning basketball team. His diploma was awarded early so he could move on with that milestone completed before he left.

He misses his home school but will be able to walk with his class to graduation and attend his prom in Hope due to arrangements made with the school system.

His mother says the decision to move him was traumatic but, at the same time, she recognizes that her son is growing up where he is now. Her son-in-law is opening up new experiences for her, she said, and in doing so is helping her build a strong bridge to adulthood.

Davis still has some big decisions to make: Later this month, her doctors will sit down with her and review her post-chemo condition and help her come up with a plan for the surgery she will have next series of attacks on his cancer.

While waiting for that, Davis says she’s still in the learning stage of her illness and sometimes feels like she’s still in shock and functioning automatically to get through it. But she also has the opportunity to think deeply about another big decision she had to make soon after her colleagues at the Malone School first learned of her cancer.

“As soon as they heard, they took over,” she said of the first few days, the few she was able to work after the discovery. “They helped me do what I needed to do, like grading papers, anything. Then when we found out I couldn’t go back to work, they immediately collected money.

One of them, Robin Layton, had come to see her one day and told her that she had been led by God to organize fundraisers to help her.

“I had a hard time accepting this kind of help but Robin told me that if God had put it on his heart to help me, who was I to take that away from him? It helped me to let go,” she said of the efforts of Layton and other teachers, as well as students from the Malone School population, other community members and strangers.

Special t-shirts were made for sale, for example, and the school children paid $1 each for the privilege of also wearing them on a “pink out” day at school. There was also a cake auction.

And people stopped by with cards, words of encouragement, money and other forms of support. One of his former students paid for her share of her first chemotherapy treatment, which cost $3,000. And that’s where a lot of the other dollars went as his chemo continued, along with payment for food, fuel and other expenses incurred along the way to those treatments and back home. . Utilities and other household expenses also get a cut of those dollars sometimes.

She still doesn’t know who stopped by her house with money one day when she was in treatment.

There was also a gift package prepared by her colleagues at the Malone School for a drawing that anyone can participate in if they donate $10. The freezer and food gift will go as an extra gesture of gratitude to the person whose ticket stub is drawn after this fundraiser is over. She and another Malone School educator recently diagnosed with cancer, high school teacher’s aide Lisa Hertensen, will share what was raised in this effort, and t-shirts are also being made for Hertensen. A cake auction in Hertensen’s name is also planned for the Easter season.

Countless prayers continue to rise in their favor.

The outpouring of support, Davis said, was overwhelming and certainly ended any of the fears she harbored inside when she learned she was sick.

“I don’t have the worlds to express how much this means to me,” Davis said. “I was so afraid of being isolated. I thought I would be forgotten and I am not. It’s just amazing. Every time I go for chemo, I have to make a payment. These are manageable due to the money that was collected for me. Community members have reached out and continue to reach out in many other ways as well. I know I am not alone.

Anyone interested in helping with ongoing fundraisers for Davis and Hertensen can call the Malone School at 850-482-9930.

See an upcoming edition of The Floridan for more on Lisa Hertensen’s journey.

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