Diagnosis for an advanced case of colon cancer came dangerously late for a Decatur educator. That was in May of 2017.
The deadly disease put Deede Jones in the hospital for thirteen days. After that long hospital stay, it was time for a dozen grueling rounds of chemotherapy.
When the new school year started in the fall, students at Leon Sheffield Magnet School decided they could help hundreds of chemo patients including their librarian.
WAAY 31 was in the library at Leon Sheffield when librarian Deede Jones walked up to one of her students and gave her a hug.
“I get to see Nataley all the time,” Jones said. “Sweet girl!”
Nataley Smith loves her librarian.
“What do you think about Mrs. Jones?,” we asked. “Is she one of your favorites?” “Yes!” Nataley told us with a big smile.
At the beginning of the school year, students got the bad news that Mrs. Jones had cancer.
“Somehow we figured out when she got colon cancer,” Nataley told us. “It was a little terrifying. And everyone was so sad.”
Her colon cancer was so advanced, Mrs. Jones was in the hospital for nearly two weeks. When she got out, it was time for the next step: chemotherapy.
“I had no clue,” Jones told WAAY 31. “No one in my family had ever had cancer. I didn’t know you went and sat in this chair for hours while you’re hooked to an IV and you’re getting all this medicine.”
“We just wanted to do something for her,” school counselor Jan Mendenhall told us. “The word of the year in my guidance classes was ‘purpose.’ Why do we do what we do?”
Mendenhall says doing something for Mrs. Jones became the purpose for Leon Sheffield students.
When she was able to come back to school, the students had surprise for their librarian.
“Well, I think the day that got me most was they surprised me with a day where everybody wore blue because blue is the color for colon cancer,” Jones explained.
The students decided their purpose was even bigger. They wanted to comfort other cancer patients, too.
“And the kids would talk about, ‘what could we do?’, Mendenhall told WAAY 31. “So, we decided on this service project for the folks close to us. And Deede was being treated here in Decatur at Clearview Cancer Institute. And, so, we wanted to do something for them. We wanted to do something for her.”
Students were excited. “She was telling us how we were going to do these projects to help the people in Clearview,” Nataley said.
The kids took on a big job. “They wrote short stories,” Mendenhall said. “Kids colored and wrote notes of encouragement, inspirational quotes.”
Nataley told us about one she’ll always remember. “One of them said, ‘My illness doesn’t define me, but my strength and courage does’.”
Throughout the school year, students delivered their handiwork to Clearview for the patients taking chemo there. Something as simple as a flower crafted from tissue paper became a seed of hope.
“Doing these projects and just doing these little tokens of love and appreciation to patients there was just incredible to see,” Jones told us.
What a difference they made.
“Every time we made one they feel good because they made someone happier,” Nataley explained.
The meaningful messages gave a big boost to the chemo patients.
“I feel like they’re my little cheerleaders on the sidelines rooting me on, you know, cheering me on through this process,” Clearview patient Shannon Privett told us. “It’s a hard process to go through.”
Students with a purpose made sure cancer patients knew they weren’t in their fight alone.
And Deede Jones found her purpose: warning people about colon cancer.
“Making more people aware of it because of what happened to me and seeing these kids get involved and giving love back to others. It was a miracle. It really was.
Deede Jones is now cancer free as she spreads the word for folks to get screened for colon cancer.