Lafayette rallies around Spanish teacher with breast cancer
Lafayette High School’s Stephanie Lester is a fighter, but she is not battling breast cancer alone. Buoyed by colleagues and students, she feels strong as she enters the next phase of this journey, which brings six weeks of radiation treatment. “I always come back to hugs at school. The teenagers have been incredible,” Lester said recently before Lafayette’s Homecoming game.
In their latest effort, students organized the “Pink Out for the Cure” night at the football stadium, where fans could pick up resources from the American Cancer Society and donate to the cause. Michayla Gatsos, a senior who volunteers with the ACS, has spearheaded several fundraisers in honor of Lester, who heads the school’s world language department. “For Lafayette, this issue is very personal to us,” Michayla said.
Students also collected money via a teacher dress-down week, from businesses along nearby Southland Drive, and through October’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K walk. Michayla, who expects to surpass their $1,000 goal, also pulled in the Beta Club and the National Honor Society to help with the Pink Out set-up and Student Council to order the T-shirts. “It’s a lot about the connections you make,” she said, referring to the ripples of support.
Lester, who has taught Spanish at Lafayette for 15 years, learned of her diagnosis about nine months ago. “That’s like the scariest thing a woman can hear, but she’s been so positive through the whole thing and keeps pushing,” Michayla said. “She kept teaching and kept going.”
After doctors confirmed Lester’s cancer in late January, she had a lumpectomy in February and a double mastectomy in March. Then came 20 weeks of chemotherapy through August to combat the Stage 3 growth. Amid the blur, Lester continued to teach and to lead fitness classes at a local gym as she was able. “The kids have been my biggest supporters. Every day, a student will do something for me or ask how I’m doing,” said Lester, who also gave a shout-out to Lafayette’s staff for contributing sick days.
For the pink-out project, Lafayette dubbed the Homecoming game “Breast Cancer Awareness Night,” and Lester – as an honorary team captain – ran out of the tunnel with the Generals and tossed the coin at midfield before kickoff. While she seemed to shy away from that public spotlight, she has appreciated the opportunity for frank talk in the classroom. Students have taken the message home, too, and Lester said two of their mothers were diagnosed after self-exams.
“I’d never had a mammogram and found the lump myself,” said the now 40-year-old Lester, recalling her own experience. “Had I waited until time for my first mammogram, it would have been too late.”
These days, Lester keeps looking ahead – ever thankful for her army of supporters. “Whatever happens, you can stay strong and let others help you through it,” she said. “No matter what, you can get through it.”
How to help
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Call your American Cancer Society anytime at (800) ACS-2345 for more information and to find out how you can join the fight against this disease. To donate through Lafayette, call (859) 381-3474.