Monday, January 13, 2014

Stories of Giving from Guadalupe Elias

I write this with tears in my eyes and pride in my heart. In November of 2000, at the age of 23, my daughter, Madelyn Elias, a recent graduate from UC Riverside on a career path as a district sale manager, was sideswiped when she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, the most common form of childhood leukemia. Over a course of two years, she received chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Madelyn did suffer numerous complications, beside always nauseous, she had seizures, left-side deficit. She was not able to walk without the use of a walker for six months. Yet, she never complained, she was so determined to get well. She decided that when the chemotherapy wasn’t making her ill she could be a substitute teacher. During this time, she realized her true calling - being a teacher. She always stated there was a reason for everything – the reason for her illness was the realization that she needed to be a teacher. In September of 2003, Madelyn was so excited to obtain a full-time elementary teaching position at Azusa Unified School District. Madelyn wanted her classroom to be a place of energy, excitement and creativity. In other words, Madelyn’s classroom was a training ground for the real world, where she inspired these young students to conquer challenges, become intellectually curious and grow to their God given potential. She was always the last teacher to leave the campus. It became a custom for the night custodian to walk her to her car at 9:30 p.m., after stating that he needed to lock-up the school campus. In June of 2005, after 4 1/2 years of remission, she relapsed – the leukemia was back. Her only hope was a bone marrow transplant. With great sadness, we were told that her siblings were not a match. At that time, bone marrow drives were conducted at the Azusa Unified School District and her church. After an extensive search, a minor mismatch donor was found, it was the only hope. After the transplant, she lived at UCLA Medical Center for three months with daily platelet transfusions. Her body continued to fight the donor’s bone marrow. This is called Graft versus Host disease. This disease affected her skin, eyes, mouth, kidneys, liver and other organs. One of Madelyn’s proudest achievements - and surely her greatest challenge at times – was being a teacher, Madelyn did return to teaching after pleading with to her doctors. She was the happiest in front of her classroom but returning to work did have consequences. She always had sores in her mouth, causing severe pain when she spoke or ate. Also, she had sores on the bottom of her feet, so every step she took was agonizing. But nothing, would stop her from teaching. She loved her students so much, she only wanted the best for them. Her students also learned from their teacher – compassion. Her students would reach out to help her. They were always there for her just as Madelyn was always there for her students. Madelyn was constantly trying creative and innovative ideas to engage her students. She was passionate about making a difference in the lives of her students. Madelyn was one of a kind, a singular, dominant person in these young students’ lives. She had an enormous influence on the children and other teachers she came to know. In era in which it is popular to determine a teacher’s self-worth by a simple score, Madelyn showed just how much of an art the process of teaching and mentoring really is. Madelyn would state “It‘s a human experience, not a numbers game.” You could count on her being in her classroom, checking papers, doing lesson plans, preparing students lessons and homework packets or purchasing classroom supplies. Madelyn would work late into the evening and on weekends until exhaustion would take over. She was happy and honored to attend her student’s family celebrations, she become a part of her student’s life. She was generous and gracious to those who worked with her, treating colleagues as members of an extended family. For Madelyn, being in her classroom was more than just being a student; it was a life-long bond. Madelyn would always tell stories about her kids and before long we were laughing with tears in our eyes. I realized that after hearing Madelyn tell these stories. Madelyn became a teacher because she was a lifelong learner herself. Madelyn endured multiple years of medical treatment, never giving up and always had a smile and a positive outlook. She learned a long time ago that life is not fair – you simply forge ahead. She was never angry or not once did she ever question, “why me”. She simply had the attitude that “it is what it is.” She never once thought she was not going to conquer this disease. To those who know Madelyn, you understood she set a very high bar. She maintained a generosity of spirit and no self-pity in the face of unimaginable pain and suffering. Her compassion for others and fortitude of spirit will continue to be a source of inspiration to many of us. On May 22, 2012, at the age of 34, she lost her long and courageous battle against leukemia. While Madelyn will be missed as a teacher; she will also be missed as a mentor and friend. We find comfort in knowing that her accomplishments, her students, and her intellect are enduring and will continue to exemplify the best in teaching. The way Madelyn lived challenged us to cope with our trials to put away self-pity and work for a greater good. Madelyn would not want to be remembered as somebody who simply had cancer. She would want to be remembered as the person who touched so many lives. There is no way to know, why this beautiful, brave, young lady had to suffer so much pain in her short life. In honor of Madelyn’s love of learning, a scholarship fund has been established in her name. This award is to be used to further educational or vocational goals of a high school student who has shown courage in overcoming life’s obstacles. It recognizes courage and determination over physical and/or learning disabilities, illness of self or parent, financial difficulties, the death of a loved one and unusually difficult circumstances at home. The first annual scholarship of $1000.00 was given to a well deserving future college student who continued to exceed in her studies while battling an illness. The goal is to continue to honor well-deserving students in Madelyn Elias’ memory each year. This is a story of unselfish giving. A gift to the Madelyn Elias Memorial Scholarship Fund would be an honor to her and greatly appreciated by her family.

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