Teacher is back in the classroom after fight with cancer

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 9/8/98.

Lorraine Skrypek, Paynesville, is glad to be back in the classroom. After a two-year battle with cancer, there were times she never thought she would be teaching again. She had hoped to return in January of last school year, but found she didn’t have the energy so delayed her return to this fall.

On June 10, 1996, Skrypek, a teacher in the Paynesville Area School District for 21.5 years, received word that doctors had found cancer.

“That date is etched in my mind and is a date I won’t forget very soon,” Skrypek said.

After she received word from the doctors that she needed surgery immediately, she went to school and cleaned out her classroom. “I didn’t know at that point if I would ever return to teaching,” she said.

The surgeons found the breast cancer had spread to lymph nodes in her arm. Following the surgery, she underwent six months of strong chemotherapy, five weeks of radiation, then a bone marrow transplant.

Chemotherapy drugs are designed to kill the fast growing cells in the body whether they are abnormal or healthy. Skrypek said cancer is considered to be fast growing abnormal cells in humans.

In the process of killing the abnormal cells, healthy cells are also killed because medicine has not reached the point that it can just isolate the abnormal.

Considered to be fast growing cells are: hair, which includes eyebrows and eyelashes, mouth, esophagus, intestines, white blood cells, toe nails and fingernails. These fast growing cells were also destroyed or affected for Skrypek. The hope is that abnormal cancer cells will not be able to regenerate, but the healthy cells will once again be healthy.

Skrypek said as a result of the chemotherapy and radiation, she lost her eyebrows, eyelashes, toe nails and fingernails. She is glad to report, that all have grown back.

“Radiation really zaps your strength,” Skrypek said. “It took me over a year to gain my strength back. When I got home from the hospital, it took all my strength to get from the bedroom to a chair.”

“Don (her husband) fixed my break-fast and suppers while neighbors made my lunch when Don was at school,” Skrypek said.

On Jan. 17, 1997, doctors at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, harvested bone marrow from Skrypek. She received a strong chemo dosage intravenously for three days. The doctors watched as the white blood count dropped in their attempt to kill the bone marrow. Skrypek said they then flushed her system for a day before reinfusing the bone marrow back into her system.

“It took the doctors one and a one-half hours to reinfuse the bone marrow back into my system,” Skrypek said. “It felt like my chest would explode.”

“I thought I would be at Abbott for the bone marrow transplant for at least 25 days. I wrote Don 25 love letters so he could read one each day that I was gone. I made Suzanne, Jennifer and Jeff (her children) each a basket with 25 small gifts. I felt that if they could open a gift each day it would be a way to be connected with them,” she added.

Skrypek said cancer is a family disease. “Physically I was the only one affected, but emotionally, it was hard on the entire family. Jeff wasn’t able to be in the same room with me and ask the question, ‘How are you feeling mom?’ ” she added with tears in her eyes.

“While I was in the hospital, Don and the kids were cared for by the staff at the school and by our friends. Our family can’t thank the community enough for their support,” she said.

“My sister Sara called me daily at 10 a.m. to talk. Even when I couldn’t talk, she just called to let me know they were there for us. My other sister, Margaret, called on Fridays.

“I’m going to miss their talks now that I’m back to work,” Skrypek stressed.

This summer the family had blue shirts imprinted with “Celebrating Life.” Skrypek also has two brother-in-laws who are cancer survivors. The extended family of sisters and brother-in-laws took a trip this summer to Branson, Mo., to celebrate their survival.
Her last tests showed normal chest x-rays and blood tests. “They say you can’t be sure you beat the cancer for 10 years. Because of the heavy doses of chemo, doctors aren’t sure what side effects may appear after a period of years,” Skrypek said.

“I’m living each day as though I’m cured. I feel God was trying to get my attention. I wasn’t listening so he hit me hard. I had a lot of time to meditate over the last two years. I couldn’t give up because I learned I had a lot for which to be thankful. Don kept telling me I had only one job in the last two years, that was to get well,” Skrypek said.

“I cannot stress enough how wonderful it was to have the Paynesville Area Hospital equipped to do the therapy. Everyone from the workers at the front desk, to Deb, the outreach secretary, and the nurses were all wonderful. If Willie LaCroix, hospital administrator, or Bev Mueller, assistant hospital administrator, would see me, they would come and greet me and ask how I was doing. The personal touch at PAHCS is comforting and a positive atmosphere,” Skrypek stressed.

“I feel great to be back in school. It feels like I never left. It is sometimes hard to believe I have been gone two years. I enjoy the kids and teaching,” she added.

A special education teacher, she found she was special to many people. Upon returning to school, colleagues and former students stopped into her classroom throughout the day to welcome her back.

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