Maria Maynard’s battle with cancer forced her to retire from a teaching job she loved, but her journey made her realize she didn’t need to give up her calling — she just needed to make a new lesson plan.
The 50-year-old Charlton resident was diagnosed with stage-four cancer on Valentine’s Day in 2011. It was breast cancer, but the cancer cells were in her abdomen and back.
The diagnosis was a shock, she said, because she had always been very healthy. Her only symptom was recurring nausea.
Armed with an excellent support system and a positive attitude, Maynard began a regimen of six months of chemotherapy.
“I kept telling my doctor all along that I was a miracle. I was the one that had that stage-four breast cancer in my abdomen and I was going to be a miracle, and that’s what I said to him at almost every appointment,” she recounted.
During her four-hour chemotherapy sessions, with her husband, Dan, at her side, she imagined the cocktail of drugs entering her veins as a “peace potion” that went into her body like a wave and washed away the cancer.
She didn’t get nauseous from the treatments, but her eyebrows, eyelashes and hair fell out.
“I was expecting it. I didn’t care about my hair. I had really cute short scarves,” she said.
Six months after her diagnosis, she received a clean bill of health and looked forward to returning to her job teaching at Sacandaga and Glen Worden elementary schools, in the Scotia-Glenville Central School District. But the cancer treatment had sapped her energy and she made the difficult decision to retire in order to devote time to returning her body and spirit to full health. Her strategy: a plant-based diet, exercise, plenty of rest, a minimum of stress and a circle of positive people.
Along the way, she discovered she had lessons to offer others about her cancer journey, and has started a book on how to keep healthy and positive during and after treatment. She also plans to share her story with support groups and women’s groups.
Her aim is to touch the life of at least one person, just as it always was when she taught.
“I don’t need to be on bookshelves or to be famous; I need to be heard, because I think that my positivity and my attitude is contagious,” she said.
Her message is geared toward women, whom she said often don’t realize how strong they are until they are faced with a crisis.
“I want it to be a story of hope, which I think is very, very easy to lose when you are given a diagnosis or situation in your life that is not a happy hayride. And digging down for that hope takes strength. We would do it for our children, we would do it for our spouse but when it’s us, we have to dig deeper,” she said.
Phoebe Sitterly of Canajoharie, a friend since childhood, said Maynard is a phenomenal teacher.
“She believes in people; she always sees the good,” she explained. “The form of cancer she has is a difficult one and I know she’s had dark days, but she’s so inspirational.”
Maynard’s positive outlook was severely tested in August when she found a lump in her breast and was told that the cancer had returned. The discovery came just 15 days shy of when she had planned to celebrate the milestone of two cancer-free years.
Again, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but his time, the cancer manifested itself in her breast.
After her first diagnosis, Maynard said she felt like a warrior going in to do battle with cancer, but that feeling wasn’t there at the beginning of round two.
It took about a month before she found a way to put a positive spin on the situation.
“I said, ‘What if my cancer came back as a blessing and now, because it’s in the primary site, we can get rid of it and it’s gone for good,’ ” she recounted.
She had surgery Oct. 1 and at the time this article was written was waiting to find out what the next course of action would be.
Always the teacher, she’s been thinking about how she can use this setback to help others, and is eager to reach out to women who have found themselves in similar shoes and are looking for inspiration to carry them through. Maynard has a wealth of it to share.
“I am more appreciative of each day, not each year, and relationships have become deeper and visits more regular,” she said. “I take each opportunity to see something or someone new or try a new adventure. I don’t wait for a more convenient time.”
To get in touch with Maynard, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Gazette reporter Kelly de la Rocha at 395-3040 or email@example.com and follower her on Twitter at @KellydelaRocha.