One Santa Barbara teacher learned just how much of an impact she has made on her students’ lives when she returned home after her last day of chemotherapy.
Katherine James, 50, has spent the last 23 years teaching at Mountain View Elementary school. Only a few weeks before the school year ended in 2018, doctors told her the horrible news that she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
“You never want to hear those words and then a doctor is sitting in front of you saying them,” James told “Good Morning America.” “It sends you on a path that you never imagined being on. You start fighting right away. You want it to go away.”
She started fighting right away. She quickly scheduled a double mastectomy and began chemotherapy treatments.
On Sept. 11, 2018, she finished her last round.
As she pulled up to her house after the treatment, ready to rest from the exhausting day, she noticed something out of the ordinary.
“My mother was driving and I remember saying, ‘Mom, I think those are kids from my class standing outside of my house,'” James said.
Sure enough, a group of past and present students had gathered outside of the teacher’s home to celebrate her last day of chemo.
The students brought handmade posters, balloons, and bells to greet her.
Brigitte Welty, a parent of a past student of James’, organized the homecoming celebration. After talking with her own sister who is battling breast cancer, Welty learned that a patient’s last day of chemo is traditionally celebrated with bells and she wanted to do something similar for the selfless teacher.
“A lot of times, it’s hard when someone is battling cancer. It’s a hopeless feeling for those who love them,” she told KEYT. “You can’t take it away so you just do what you can to show your love and support.”
Ivana Firestone, whose son was in James’ class for both third and fourth grade, described James as “engaged” and “fun.”
“We are here to support her in any way that she needs. We are hoping she gets back to school, but we want her to take as much time as she needs,” Firestone told “GMA.”
Another student, Jolee Tappeiner, said, “When I first found out Mrs. James had cancer, I was sad and worried about her being able to fight it. But when I saw her at her house, I could see how strong she is and I know she will be coming back to school even stronger!”
James was touched that so many of her students and their parents wanted to show their support in such a sweet way and is hoping to get back to the classroom soon.
She said, “Their little faces were really happy. I’m extremely grateful for all their love and support.”
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