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School, community rally for teacher fighting cancer

For the past year, veteran Cluster Springs Elementary School teacher Sarah Vaughan has felt like she has been caught on a roller-coaster ride for which she wasn’t standing in line. 

“That pretty much sums up what my life has been like for the past year,” said Vaughan who has been fighting infiltrating ductal carcinoma, a form of breast cancer, ever since she discovered a lump on June 2 of last year.

After enduring a bilateral mammogram, an ultrasound, a needle biopsy and an ultrasound-guided core needle biopsy, on June 26, Vaughan received the phone call that changed her life.

She was told the doctor would meet her in his office at 3 p.m., and that’s when the “dreadful ‘c’ word” entered her mind, but then she said she came to her senses. 

 “I knew it couldn’t be cancer because breast cancer doesn’t run in my family, and all my previous mammograms were fine,” said Vaughan. 

Her husband, Richard, son Clint, mother Nancy Puryear and brother Jeff Puryear went along to support Vaughan at the doctor’s visit. 

That day Vaughan found out her cancer is triple negative, “a very rare, aggressive type of cancer that can only be treated with chemotherapy.

“My oncologist informed me that I would be on some form of chemo for the rest of my life…not what I wanted to hear,” said Vaughan. 

Her first round of chemo treatment began on July 1 and lasted eight weeks. 

At this point, her oncologist told Vaughan she would not be able to teach when school started because of possible infections and her weak immune system. She was then hospitalized on Aug. 22 for pneumonia. 

“I could not fathom the thought of giving up my job at Cluster Springs Elementary. Unfortunately, I had to take a year’s leave of absence. I literally cried in Valdivia Marshall’s office when I signed those papers. I have been teaching for 20 years. How was I not going to teach this year? I miss every minute of it. I especially miss the students and co-workers at CSES,” said Vaughan. 

However, Vaughan said September was “a month of hope.” 

Even though she couldn’t work, she said her family was “blessed” by the “outpouring of love” shown to them at the Halifax County Cancer Association’s Walk for Hope held on Sept. 14. 

Cluster Springs Elementary School faculty and staff, members from North Fork Baptist Church and members from the community walked and raised money in Vaughan’s honor. 

 Halifax County High School Class of ’86, spearheaded by Stacey Jackson Long, held a benefit for Vaughan at Common Grounds on Sept. 22. 

Lori Reaves of We’ve Got Rhythm Dance Academy gave Vaughan’s daughter, Brooke, a scholarship for dance classes. 

CSES and We’ve got Rhythm and the Class of ’86 also sold T-shirts to help raise money. 

A portion of the proceeds from Earl Winbush Racing’s cruise-in, held Sept. 28, was given to Vaughan’s family. 

Sherry, David and Samantha Tuck sold hunting caps, which read, “Hunters In Support of Sarah Vaughan” to help Vaughan’s family purchase Christmas gifts. 

Serving Hope also has provided the family with food for many months. 

Sharon Pointer-Franklin of Halifax Regional’s Cardiac Pulmonary Rehab held a bake sale in Vaughan’s honor. 

Title I of CSES also raised money to help her family with medical bills. 

Wes and Jax Bosiger donated the proceeds raised for Kim Bosiger during Walk for Hope to be placed under Vaughan’s name.

“We have received over 400 cards, monetary gifts, food, etc… from family, friends and area churches. Such selfless acts of kindness. God is so good,” said Vaughan. 

Since having treatment Vaughan has lost her hair, including eyelashes. She becomes fatigued and has experienced painful neuropathy in her hands, legs and feet, but her breast cancer has shown a tremendous decrease in size.  

Prior to her 19th week of chemo, Vaughan said things were looking promising. 

“My doctor had given me the okay to start getting out more,” said Vaughan. 

However, things then took a turn for the worse on March 31. 

“I felt confused but blamed it on the busy weekend. I woke up Tuesday without any feeling in my left arm and hand,” said Vaughan. 

Immediately her doctor was called, and she went to the Duke Emergency Room where a CT scan and MRI of her brain were ordered. 

She was admitted to the hospital for a brain metastases, and surgery was performed on April 7. After a successful surgery, she was discharged two days later. 

The next phase of her treatment will be stereotactic radio surgery, which will begin on May 6.

“I have so many wonderful people praying for me each day. I thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for battling this beast for me and holding my right hand through it all. I grasp His hand each time I go for scans and await the results. I thank Him for giving me such a loving caregiver in my husband,” said Vaughan. 

Despite having his own health issues, she said her husband has always been there for her. 

He has not been able to work since he had back surgery in 2008 and a massive heart attack in 2012. 

“I cannot begin to thank everyone enough for all they’ve done and are currently doing for us,” said Vaughan. 

Now it’s her former work colleague and friend, Tabitha Cash, who is taking a turn at helping out Vaughan’s family. 

“From the moment I knew she was diagnosed, I knew I would help her somehow because she is the kind of teacher who would help her students anyway,” said Cash. 

Cash is spearheading a benefit to be held Saturday at The Worship Center from 1 to 7 p.m. 

“We have a full day of events planned,” said Cash who is receiving help from CSES faculty and staff to organize the event. 

There will be entertainment by Harold Young, Carolyn Martin, Bumpsy Hazlewood, We’ve Got Rhythm Dancers, the Clark Family, Ben and Linda Hughes, Sherry Link and the Stewarts. Attendees will enjoy a candy crush cupcake walk, face painting, a dessert bar and hotdogs throughout the day.  

Barbecue plates including barbecue, beans, slaw, roll, drink and a cookie will be sold from 4 to 6 p.m. at $10 a ticket.

A cornhole tournament also will be played where champions will get 20 percent of the entry fees. To enter in the tournament, a $20 fee is being charged for adult teams and a $10 fee for child teams. 

Raffle tickets also are being sold for $1 each. First prize is $100, second prize is $50, and third prize is $25. 

An auction will be held at 6 p.m. for donated items from area businesses, family and friends.

Cash has been more than glad to organize the event for a friend who she considers a “Godly, church-going, caring woman.”

While planning the benefit, Cash has received many donations from several people in the county. 

“Heading up this event I have seen how living in this county, when someone needs help in a time of need, people will help,” said Cash. 

Looking at the spreadsheet of listed donations, Cash couldn’t hold back the tears saying, “It’s amazing. 

“Like I tell my at kids at school, we need to treat people the way we want to be treated. Then even in hard times, we are going to be okay.” 

Cash also is glad to see the faculty and staff at Cluster Springs Elementary School “come together as a whole to make sure this is a successful event for her.”

Vaughan said she is looking forward to the benefit. 

The public is invited to contact any Cluster Springs Elementary School employee to purchase a ticket or contact Tabitha Cash at 517-0435.