Messages of support from family, teachers and students are displayed in her home.
Todd and Jacob Mercier
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Sometimes people who display exceptional strength in tough situations make us realize our biggest worries aren't so big after all. Teachers and staff at Atkinson Elementary introduced us to someone just like that, a teacher who is still inspiring them, whether she's in the classroom or not.
Hard work, resiliency plus teamwork equals success. That's the motto at Atkinson Elementary, a motto fourth grade teacher Rebecca Pitman exudes.
The positive energy is everywhere in her home with wall to wall affirmations. Also in abundance? Messages of support from family, teachers and students.
"One of my kids wrote that until she comes back a ray of sunshine will be missing from our school," said Atkinson teacher Sarah Elliott.
Four years ago, Pitman began her battle with stage 4 breast cancer, then the cancer spread to her spine. She responded well to chemotherapy, but as soon as she beat cancer she explained, "Come to find out, I had developed a tumor at the base of my brain."
The racquetball size tumor was removed, but the radiation made recovery tough.
"I love my job," Pitman said, "so I was trying to get back to my job and feel normal again."
Pain again came back to Pitman, "Apparently some of the tumor that was in my brain has broken off and has been floating in my spinal fluid." It settled in Pitman's neck and lower back making it hard to walk. So, the determined teacher got a wheelchair to ease discomfort and went back to school. An unforgettable reaction from one of her students is the reason her kids provide the best medicine.
"I think that my students thought that I couldn't walk anymore, so one of my students comes into the room and I was standing up out of the wheelchair walking around," Pitman recalled, "He screamed, you can walk!" A smiling Pitman responded, "It's a miracle and we all kind of laughed." She continued, "He said, 'you really can walk?' I said, 'I could walk the whole time I told you guys that.'"
The reaction gave the whole class a great laugh.
When Pitman had to take a break from school recently, a young girl who's grandmother passed away feared for her teacher. Pitman wants her kids to know, she's a fighter. "I can no longer have kids, I've always wanted a big family so those kids are my family and I want to be back with them."
Brothers Todd and Jacob Mercier said their friend gives them a daily life lesson.
"She makes an impact on every single person she meets," Jacob Mercier said.
Todd Mercier added of watching his friend and her courage, "I know the little things that I'm battling on a day to day basis, I can overcome very easily."
Pitman continues treatment but sick days are gone and bills are piling up.
"She's a very prideful person who wants to take care of herself," said Atkinson teacher Chris Arrington. "So sometimes trying to help her, you have to literally force your foot in the door." They did. Teachers and friends set up a fund at Rally.org.
Of the support a tearful Pitman said, "It means a lot, it really does because I do love my job and I love going to school and I love being around my kids," she explained, "they make me smile, they make me laugh."
Her message to the students, "You guys help me get up every morning and make me want to get up every morning."
Miss Pitman is feeling stronger and hopes to return to school Monday. Teachers are trying to donate future sick days for her for hospital visits and recovery time if the Jefferson County Teacher's Association approves.
Wednesday, July 23 2014 11:06 PM EDT2014-07-24 03:06:24 GMT
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Louisville, KY 40203