St. Joseph preschool teacher Kelly Francisco considers BCACS a family. Her father worked there, she graduated from there, her husband graduated from there, and her children now attend there. But it took breast cancer to reveal the depth of her school family.
“I wouldn’t say [having cancer] is a blessing, but it has definitely shown me why I send my kids here,” Mrs. Francisco said.
When Mrs. Francisco received her diagnosis, she knew she wanted to keep teaching. Her fellow teachers and classroom aides helped her make a plan. Together, they told staff, parents, and students.
“I explained to my students that Miss Kelly has a boo-boo inside of her and I have to take it out,” Mrs. Francisco said. “The kids were really good about it.”
The kids weren’t the only ones.
“Teachers from all over, parents from this year and the past started bringing these gifts – anything they thought I would need for recovery,” Mrs. Francisco said.
Retired teacher Penna Maichele made a “Hope” quilt. Every BCACS student, teacher, and administrator signed a board with the words “I am not fighting alone”. St. Joseph staff members Jeanine Winkler and Don Shafer collected student well wishes in a book. Fr. Chris Ankley gave her a special blessing.
Teacher’s aide Riki Albert made pink “wish” bracelets for students and their moms. Ms. Albert and preschool teacher Aimee Downey created a photo collage of the children’s hands in prayer, all wearing this bracelet. The caption read, “God is watching over you. We know because we asked him to.”
St. Philip principal Vicky Groat asked Mrs. Francisco, a former St. Philip volleyball player, to be an honorary coach at the team’s annual “Pink Game”, which raises money for Borgess’ Tree of Life.
“That’s the thing about our schools if something happens to any of the people in our family the whole community comes out and helps,” Mrs. Groat said.
On the day of her mastectomy, administrative assistant Lee Papke organized a rosary before school with Mrs. Francisco. All the staff was there, wearing pink.
“I was supposed to take six weeks off [for the mastectomy], but I took two.” Mrs. Francisco said. “The reason I took two is this is my second family – these kids are my vitamins. They help me get through every day and so does the staff.”
Mrs. Francisco’s prognosis is good and she plans to work through her remaining treatments. Parents and teachers continue to overwhelm her with support and encouragement.
“The outpouring of love and affection I’ve gotten has made going through this a lot easier,” Mrs. Francisco said. “This is why I send my kids to St. Joseph. It’s not just a school – we’re a family.”
Want to join the fight against breast cancer?
October 5th is the St. Philip Volleyball Team’s annual “Pink Game” to raise money for Borgess Tree of Love, which offers free mammograms to underinsured women. The JV game starts at 5:30, with the Varsity game to follow. Former team members and current breast cancer fighters Kelly Francisco and Meghan (Downey) Darlington will be honorary coaches. There will be a 50/50 raffle, a prize raffle, a serving contest for free pizza, “pink” treats at the concession stand, and “TIGERS ROAR against Cancer” T-shirts available for purchase. Direct donations can be made for the Tree of Love on site.