Teacher draws strength from community in cancer fight

September 2, 2011

By Emily Baer

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Katie Tinnea (center), a first-grade teacher at Newcastle Elementary School, has been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. Her husband Ryan Tinnea (left) and her daughter Kennedy Tinnea join other family, friends and students who have supported her through her diagnosis. Contributed

Katie Tinnea, a first-grade teacher at Newcastle Elementary School, received the heartbreaking diagnosis last month that she has stage four colon cancer. Doctors discovered the cancer, which by then had spread to her liver and lungs, during a routine colonoscopy.

“Five days ago, my entire life changed,” Tinnea wrote in the second entry of her blog documenting her battle with cancer. “I got some of the most devastating news ever imaginable. While that is a negative, here are the positives.”

Tinnea went on to list the acts of kindness and love she has received from her husband Ryan and 1-year-old daughter Kennedy, as well as her family, friends and students. With their support, Tinnea is undergoing an aggressive treatment plan to fight the cancer.

“My husband, my 1-year-old daughter — her birthday was last week — and I are adjusting to what our new ‘normal’ is,” she said. “While the past month has been scary, foreign and downright horrible, the outpouring of love, support and generosity has been overwhelmingly comforting.”

Nancy King, a friend of Tinnea’s mother’s, created rubber bracelets, similar in style to the yellow Lance Armstrong bands, that are inscribed with the word “BELIEVE” on one side and “Katie” on the other. The bracelets, shown in a picture on Tinnea’s blog, are purple, her favorite color. The Tinnea family is sharing the bracelets with friends, family and the Newcastle community in hope that those wearing them will share strength, health and peace.

In a recent blog post, Katie thanked the Newcastle Elementary staff for holding her hand through “this journey filled with ups and downs” and for wearing the bracelets.

“I look around the room and see wrists with purple bracelets and I just feel so proud to be a Newcastle Lion,” she wrote.

In the school’s August newsletter, Principal Marla Newton wrote that Tinnea’s doctor has given her the go-ahead to teach during her treatment. Newton said the school would find a consistent substitute to fill in for Tinnea when she is not able to work. The substitute will welcome Tinnea’s first-graders during the first week of school and Tinnea will return the following week.

“Katie is a vibrant, energetic, motivated and determined educator,” Newton wrote in an email to Newcastle News. “She is someone to help remind us that our focus at all times will be on what is best for kids. As a teacher, Katie brings something different to each one of her students, because she invests the time to meet each student as an individual.”

This will be her sixth year teaching at Newcastle Elementary. Though Tinnea spent her last five years with kindergarteners, she said she is excited to be a part of the first-grade team this September.

When asked what about teaching she likes most, Tinnea couldn’t stick to one item, but rather listed more than a dozen reasons why she loves what she does.

“My favorite part of teaching is the bond I form with students and parents,” she said. “I love when kids greet me in the morning and are excited to tell me a story from their weekend or from something that happened since the last time we saw each other.”

She said she enjoys getting to know her students and allowing them to get to know her in return.

“I love that personal connection I form with my students,” she said. “I share about myself and in return, they see me as an individual they can trust and share with as well.”

She also talked about the happiness she feels helping students find joy in learning.

“I love when students go home in the afternoon excited to tell Mom and Dad about their day at school,” she added. “I love when parents email me the cute stories of ‘Well, Mrs. Tinnea said…’”

Finally, she spoke about the love and support she feels from the Newcastle Elementary community.

“I love the drawings and letters I receive from the students to let me know that they are thinking about me,” she said. “I love when students leave at the end of the day and say, “I’ll miss you, Mrs. Tinnea.’ And I love when parents come to volunteer or pass me in the hall and I am greeted with a smile and a hug — even parents who had a child in my class several years ago!”

While her body is not yet healthy enough to be operated upon, due to the tumors in her lungs and both lobes of her liver, she is currently undergoing chemotherapy. Once the radiation has taken effect, her oncologist will surgically remove the remaining cancer. Though Tinnea is embarking on a hard-line treatment schedule, her doctor has made sure her visits to the hospital are as short as possible in order to give her more time with her daughter at home.

“Katie is what I refer to as a ‘go getter,’” Newton said. “When faced with this diagnosis we had a phone conversation shortly thereafter and the first thing I said to my husband was just how impressed I was with her outlook, attitude and determination.”

Tinnea welcomes warm wishes, positive thoughts, cards and emails, but asks that people not visit or call. She has set up a website through www.caringbridge.org where she blogs her story in journal entries and pictures.

The nearly 5,000 site visits and more than 400 guestbook entries Tinnea has received are a testament to the number of lives she has touched, Newton said.

“I am trying to remain upbeat and positive, although I will admit, I have those down moments, too,” Tinnea said. “I just look at my beautiful daughter and know that the good days outweigh the bad and I am strong enough to get through this.”

Go to www.caringbridge.org/visit/katietinnea to follow Tinnea’s journey.


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One Response to “Teacher draws strength from community in cancer fight”

  1. Beloved Newcastle teacher passes away : Newcastle News – News , Sports, Classifieds in Newcastle, WA on April 11th, 2013 4:24 pm

    […] Tinnea, a first-grade teacher at the school, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in 2011. […]

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