When 55-year-old Amy McGraw was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2002, she made sure the disruption to her life was minimal.
The Redmond resident had a mastectomy in January 2003 and took two weeks to recover before returning to work as a first-grade teacher at St. Thomas School in Medina. She still had eight rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation treatment, but that only took her out of commission for a few days at a time, every other week. While some people in her situation would take things easy, McGraw only took as many days off as necessary. She said the eight hours she spent at school with her students helped keep her mind off the illness.
“It was a time I didn’t have to think about it,” McGraw said.
As a breast cancer survivor, she decided to participate in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure walk for the first time in September 2008.
“We had a team with my school and we had 13 people on the team,” she said.
McGraw has done the walk every year since and will be participating for the fourth time in this year’s walk from Sept. 16-18 with her team Amazing Pace.
The 3-Day route is 60 miles and changes every year. This year, the route will include parts of Redmond with a cheering station in the north parking lot of Idylwood Park at 3650 W. Lake Sammamish Pkwy N.E. on Friday from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 11:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. There will also be a cheering station at Trader Joe’s at 15932 Redmond Way on Saturday from 7:30 to 9 a.m.
Becky Whitescarver (above, center), a first-grade teacher at St. Thomas, has been on McGraw’s 3-Day team since the beginning and will be walking alongside her friend again this year.
Whitescarver is in her eighth year at St. Thomas and while she did not know McGraw when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, Whitescarver was there when McGraw was diagnosed the second time in December 2008, only a few months after their first 3-Day walk.
“I remember that it was Nov. 1 that she was going in for a biopsy. We all were concerned but really could not believe it when she told us the news,” Whitescarver said. “I remember she came to my classroom door and just had the terrible look. It felt like one of my own sisters had been diagnosed.”
McGraw had just passed her five-year mark of being cancer free when she received the news. She said it was hard and she was angry. But despite her upset, McGraw decided to keep participating in the 3-Day walk because she said it was something she could control and manage.
“You just feel empowered and strong from it,” she said.
McGraw said she first began participating in the walk when the wife of St. Thomas’ head of school, Kirk Wheeler, suggested it. Wheeler’s wife is also a breast cancer survivor and the couple have supported the 3-Day event each year.
In addition to the staff at St. Thomas, Wheeler said the students do their part as well.
“The entire school rallies behind the STS team each September,” he said. “Raising funds are part of the school’s service learning program. Through Amy (and) the team, the collective community and our students continue to learn about the importance of giving back.”
McGraw, who is teaching third graders this year, said she is very appreciative of her school’s support. She added that her students recently had a lemonade stand and after squeezing 60 pounds of lemons, they raised more than $1,000 for Amazing Pace.
During her second round with the cancer, McGraw said she went through chemotherapy and radiation again. She said in the five-year period between each diagnosis the advances in the treatments were very noticeable and credits this directly to the 3-Day event.
“I honestly feel (the medical advances are) a result of the money they raise and the research they do,” she said.
This time around, McGraw had treatment every three weeks. She said this helped because she didn’t miss as much school.
“You’re trying to do the least amount of disruption for the kids,” she said.
Wheeler said McGraw always makes her students her top priority.
“Above all, she wanted to assure me that she would continue to put forth her best efforts and that her students came first,” he said. “Here she was worrying more about her students than her own health.”
Whitescarver agreed, adding that McGraw never allowed the cancer to falter her spirit and passion for teaching. McGraw missed only a few days right after treatments and Whitescarver said she came back with energy to keep going and beat the cancer again.
And since then, she has been beating it, one day at a time.
“Every day I feel healthy,” McGraw said.