When word got out at Eminence High School that biology and chemistry teacher Dawn Welch had been diagnosed this summer with breast cancer, members of the volleyball team decided they wanted to do something to show their support.
During tomorrow’s home volleyball game against arch-rival Henry County High School, the team is hosting a “Pink Out,” decorating the gymnasium in pink and encouraging everyone who attends to join them in wearing pink – the color associated with the fight against breast cancer.
Gate proceeds from the night and all money raised from a planned bake sale will be donated to Welch, to help her and her family manage any expenses that might not be covered by insurance. A donation bucket also will be passed around in the stands, and T-shirts will be on sale.
“It will be a very intense game,” EHS head coach Stephanie Barrows said on Monday. “It’s a big rivalry, so we’re hoping it will bring us a big crowd. ... We wanted to do it big.”
Barrows described her girls as “amazing,” and said they immediately wanted to do something for Welch, as a team.
Welch “has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met in my life,” said Barrows, who also teaches at EHS. “Dawn was a huge inspiration for me when I first became a teacher.”
Welch, 45, said Monday that she was diagnosed with cancer in June, after a mammogram that she had been putting off showed a spot in her breast tissue. At first, doctors believed there were two masses.
Since then, in trying to determine if she would be a candidate for breast reconstruction surgery when the cancer is removed, she saw specialists at the Cleveland Clinic, who discovered she has seven masses. They told her she was in Stage 2 of the disease, meaning it was no longer contained to the breast and had spread to lymph nodes in her arms. The cancer has not spread to her bone marrow or any of her organs.
Welch, 45, said she regrets putting off the mammogram.. “I knew there was something wrong; I felt a sore spot (before going to the doctor). I wasn’t being very wise; I let it go and should not have.”
She knew there was a history of the disease in her family – her mother’s fraternal twin sister died of breast and liver cancer in 1978 at the age of 36. Welch said she is confident, though, that her situation will be different. At the time her aunt was diagnosed, not a lot was known about the disease.
“I know that I have all of these years of advancements in technology and treatments that allow us to know what we’re dealing with,” Welch said. “Now we know what we’re fighting, and knowledge is power.”
So far, Welch has undergone two of eight chemotherapy sessions and just last Thursday noticed she was beginning to lose her hair. The chemo, she said, is meant to reduce the masses of cancer, which increases the odds that surgeons will be able to remove all the cancer cells.
She said her doctors plan to do the mastectomy in January, which will be followed by six weeks of radiation therapy. Welch said she is being tested to see if she carries a gene that would indicate her risk for cancer to form in the other breast and her ovaries. If that test comes out positive, she will undergo a double mastectomy and surgeons also will remove her ovaries, she said.
And, if she does have the gene, she said she will start having her daughter, now 6, screened for the disease when she is a teenager.
Welch said she knows there are there are people fighting the disease who struggle with the costs of treatment and don’t have the outside support she has received.
“I almost feel guilty,” she said, adding that she is grateful for the “fanstastic health insurance” she has through the school district and the support she has received.
“It’s amazing how supportive the community has been as a whole,” as well as her colleagues and her students.
“I love Eminence. We’re one big happy family,” she said, adding a quote from one of her students: “We stick together like peanut butter and jelly.”
Anyone wishing to stay current with Welch’s progress through treatment and in the months to come may read her blog at CaringBridge.com/dawnwells.
Tomorrow’s volleyball game starts at 6:30 p.m. in the EHS gymnasium.