Easton teacher named Hero for cancer fight

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Easton teacher named Hero for cancer fight

Voice: November 2017

Giuliana Giannone didn’t have to face cancer alone.

The elementary school student in the Easton Area School District, Northampton County, got a lot of support from staff and other students after being diagnosed with leukemia during the 2015-16 school year, including one teacher who took her under her wing.

Jena Brodhead, a gifted education teacher and former president of Easton EA, knew what Giuliana was going through. Brodhead was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma two years earlier and underwent chemotherapy while teaching full time.

“Because I had gone through it, I reached out to Giuliana to let her know she wouldn’t have to go through this alone,’’ Brodhead said. “Our talks became therapeutic for both of us.’’

They grew so close – Brodhead would go to Guiliana’s treatments with her – and both showed such courage during their ordeals that they are the 2017-18 Student Series Honored Heroes of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter/Lehigh Valley Branch.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Jena as an Honored Hero for our Student Series program (www.studentseries.org).  Jena is an advocate for all things LLS, but it’s through her teaching and sharing with students of her own personal story that is truly inspiring,’’ said Felicia Tarantino, the chapter’s Student Series campaign manager.

Despite grueling chemotherapy, Brodhead only missed school on treatment days. And she made it a point to share her battle with her students.

“They watched me lose my hair. They watched me go through the whole process,’’ Brodhead said. “I was very open and honest with them.’’

Brodhead, who has been cancer free for four years, got a lot of support from students and staff at Francis A. March Elementary School. A third-grade class “sort of adopted me … I’d come back from my treatment day, and they’d have little notes on my door and little fish to remind me to keep swimming.’’

In addition to her personal talks with Brodhead, Giuliana also received similar school support. Teachers worked with her to help her make up missed classroom time in 2015-16 and through homebound instruction when she couldn’t come to school.

But Giuliana’s body resisted chemotherapy, and she had to have a bone marrow transplant that forced her to miss all of the 2016-17 school year. Remarkably, thanks to the ongoing support from the school community, she stayed on grade level.

And she and a certain teacher will always have a special place in each other’s hearts.