Students and staff at Northwest Elementary will tell you that Counselor LeAnn Artis is one in a million. But the statistics for breast cancer tell a different story. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. One in eight. And LeAnn Artis is one of the "ones."
"My first thought was, 'SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY?!'" Artis said, describing her reaction to hearing she had not one but two types of breast cancer. "I couldn't have just one type," she said.
After getting over the initial shock of the diagnosis, she began researching and asking as many questions as possible.
"As long as I was thinking, I wasn't feeling," Artis said. "I don't remember asking, 'Why me' but I do remember saying, 'I don't have time for this!'"
But as Artis found out, cancer doesn't take your schedule into account. She was diagnosed in April 2009 and had surgery the next month. Chemotherapy followed in July, and Artis was there to greet students on the first day of school in August.
"I made the first day of school, but I didn't make the second day," Artis recalled. "I bounced back and forth from home either getting over the treatments themselves or waiting for my numbers to come back up so I could be around my students without getting yet another infection."
A supportive family, both at home and at work, kept Artis's spirits up and made recovery bearable.
"I work at the most supportive, family-type campus," Artis said. "I know I took that for granted before. When I returned to work, I realized how much I missed the daily hugs from students. They didn't seem to notice my wig, odd-shaped body or the fact that I moved pretty slowly."
A student at Northwest called Artis, "the best friend I've ever had," and said, "She gives me hugs and helps people with their problems. She is the best." Another student said, "She makes me feel important and she is important to me."
Artis said, "My family was amazing. My husband just said, 'Well, here we go,' and although I knew we raised really nice kids, our daughters just affirmed that for me over and over," Artis said. "Friends and family asked, 'What can we do?' Never once did I feel alone in this process."
Staci Cordell is in her first year as assistant principal at Northwest, but she has already felt the influence Artis has on the school.
"LeAnn has already been such an amazing colleague and friend," Cordell said. "I have been at Northwest for just a few months, and it is obvious to me that she makes a tremendous contribution to the life of the campus."
Northwest Elementary Principal Dave Bauman calls Artis, "a model educator whose influence on Northwest is immeasurable."
He went on to say, "LeAnn not only serves as a superb counselor, problem solver, and friend to all, but stands out as a campus leader who ensures that Northwest fosters a positive culture to actively support the needs of teachers, parents, and children.
"Our staff rallied to support LeAnn during her fight with breast cancer. It was an ordeal that has deeply touched our campus and brought us all closer together. As a result, the Northwest staff participates annually in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure."
Northwest has a Race for the Cure team—the Northwest Stars—that will participate in the November 7 event at The Domain. You can bet they won't be the only PISD team on hand. From Relay for Life to Race for the Cure, students and staff across Pflugerville ISD regularly participate in fundraising events in the fight against cancer.
Artis is one of many breast cancer survivors in PISD. She hopes her story and others like it will convince women of the importance of a yearly mammogram.
"Breast cancer certainly wasn't something I planned on," Artis said. "My sister had it, and I really thought that she took one for the team and for our family. I found out how blessed I am to have the colleagues, friends and family I have."
Artis is one in a million. And one in eight.
Learn more about Race for the Cure - http://ww5.komen.org/
Learn more about Relay for Life - http://www.relayforlife.org/relay/