By Curt Yeomans
They got breast cancer one at a time.
McGarrah Elementary School Principal Tammy Burroughs, a resident of McDonough, was the first person to be diagnosed. Her cancer was discovered in August 2007, and she got a double mastectomy.
Then came Jennifer Rohrbach, a first-grade teacher at the Morrow school, and a resident of Jonesboro. She was diagnosed a year later, in August 2008, and she had to have a lumpectomy.
After another year, a third person at the school, the media specialist, Suzy Searcy, a resident of Lovejoy, was diagnosed in November 2009. She, like Burroughs, got a double mastectomy.
They are the school's breast cancer survivors, or as Burroughs calls it, "a very selective sorority" that does not want to add any new members.
"We certainly don't want to let anybody else in the club," she said. "We'd like it to just be 'The Three Musketeers.'"
The three educators said working in a school with other people who know what it's been like to survive breast cancer, has helped them cope with the fact that they have the disease.
The trio of educators has been a fountain of information for each other. Since Burroughs was the first person in the group to be diagnosed, she passed along information and tips, about dealing with the cancer, to Rohrbach. They, in turn, passed along their combined knowledge to Searcy.
"It meant a lot that I had somebody here who had an understanding of what I was about to go through," Rohrbach said. "It meant a lot to have someone I knew I could talk to."
Searcy added, "Mrs. Burroughs was understanding about everything, like if I had to go to a doctor's appointment. Both [Burroughs and Rohrbach] were good to talk to."
Breast cancer awareness is prominent at McGarrah, according to Burroughs. The school routinely participates in the annual Clayton County Relay for Life. It has also turned cancer fund-raising into class competitions, with winning classes getting pizza parties, or the privilege to turn Burroughs into a human sundae.
In observance of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, every Friday of this month, students and staff have been allowed to skip their uniform dress, in favor of pink clothing, the principal said.
Rohrbach said she turned her cancer into health lessons for her students, during the first year after her diagnosis, when she was undergoing chemotherapy, and her hair fell out.
"I felt like it was a teachable moment, and I was the tool," she said.
As each person in the group was diagnosed with cancer, they drew some inspiration from the person, or persons, who were previously diagnosed with the disease. Searcy said she was surprised and "very upset" when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, because she had no family history of the disease. She said was able to take a cue from Burroughs and Rohrbach, on how to deal with the cancer, though.
"They were both very positive, and strong, and 'Life goes on,'" Searcy said.
Burroughs said her lesson to people, especially educators, who are diagnosed with breast cancer, is to "be still, listen, and realize that as much as you think you're in control of your body, you're not. "As educators, we think we have to be in control in our little cave [the classroom] at all times," she said. "Sometimes, you have to learn you can delegate responsibilities, and sit back and take a break."
All three educators said they are using their experiences, not just to help each other, but to help raise awareness of breast cancer among their co-workers, and students.
"I've been educating my friends that they need to take care of their health," Searcy said. She later added, "I would not wish this on anybody else."