"Hey Uy, you wanna teach Bible school to 5th and 6th graders in Alaska?"
With that question, Rachel Willingham and I went from being just colleagues to friends. Before, Rachel was the mostly just woman in the math department that had to drive a 15 passenger van because of all the kids she had. Once, she did hire some of my wrestlers to do some work building a patio and clearing brush as we raised money for camp. Oh, and she was also a NC Teaching Fellow, so we had that in common.
I did accept her invitation to go to Nikiski, Alaska and teach Vacation Bible School for a week. And I loved every minute of it. I do believe, however, that Rachel thought I would bail on her. I actually arrived in Alaska about 10 days early and proceeded to hang out in Anchorage, backpack in Denali and relax in Seward. I got a phone call the morning of the day I was to arrive. It went something like this:
Rachel: "What are you doing?"
Heang: "Trying to get a ride to Nikiski." [I was hitchhiking]
Rachel: "Do you want me to come get you" [A two hour drive]
Heang: "No, I'll find a ride."
A few hours and 4 cars later, I was dropped off at the Fred Meyer in Kenai where a van load from the group was shopping and waiting to deliver me to Lighthouse Community Church. The next week, I get to play, sing and teach awesome kids and become closer friends with Rachel and the rest of the team.
This past summer, Rachel was diagnosed with breast cancer. It's a pretty aggressive cancer she is fighting. Rachel had her first chemo treatment just last Thursday. I say this not so that you will feel sorry for Rachel. I say this because I, and many others, am inspired by Rachel. Her Facebook status updates reflect her personality: encouraging and humorous. She has committed to teaching through the treatment. As a matter of fact, she is at school every day unless she has a doctor's appointment (of which there are many). Rachel spoke to our FCA Huddle [pic below] on Thursday morning, went to her first class and then went to get chemo. She was out Friday because of the side effects but was back with us on Monday. That's an amazing woman.Fortunately for Rachel, she's not alone. She has a great family in her husband Keeth and her childern. Her church home has been there for her. And she is fortunate to work with the most caring faculty anywhere. Teachers have stepped up to cover her classes while she is at appointments, helped cater meals to the family and even shuttle the kids. A few teachers have committed to shaving their heads if individual goals are met by the school and community. The goal is between $200 (Hale) and $2000 (Audra), depending on the head/hair. I'm worth $400. Hopefully, we can raise some awareness of cancer while we raise money to help Rachel.