Orlando Sentinel Document Delivery Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2007 Section: A SECTION Edition: FINAL Page: A1 Source: Kumari Kelly, Sentinel Staff Writer Type: FEATURE SHARING A FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL Teacher Tisha Rayburn's cancer blog: 'Everyone is saying the same thing, "I'll go with you on this ride." As I look closely, it's all of you. And in that instant, I know it's going to be ok. I let go and let the ride begin.' CLERMONT---Tisha Rayburn has always been honest with her elementary-school students. If she felt sick, she'd tell them, "Ms. Rayburn doesn't feel too good today." So when the 39-year-old schoolteacher was diagnosed with rare, life-threatening ovarian cancer just before classes began this year, she didn't hide it. The Internet quickly became her connection to her former Orange and Lake County students, colleagues and parents during a grueling regime of chemotherapy treatments. Like countless others going through health crises, Rayburn turned to blogging to keep family members updated on her diagnosis, prognosis, doctors' appointments and daily progress. Her journal on CaringBridge.com chronicles the ups and downs of her cancer treatment and the new lessons she is learning -- and like a good teacher -- is sharing. Monday, Sept. 10, 9:35 p.m. So I'm sitting alone on top of this huge ride. Looking down into this black tunnel. I can't see a thing. I don't know which way I will be heading. Will it start fast? Will it start slow?... I start to sweat. My heart starts beating fast. I close my eyes and brace for it to start. Just then, I feel something behind me. A set of arms wrap around me and I hear "I'll go with you on this ride." And then someone behind them, and another person and another person. ... Everyone is saying the same thing, "I'll go with you on this ride." As I look closely, it's all of you. And in that instant, I know it's going to be ok. I let go and let the ride begin. Rayburn found herself in a literal daze on "Meet the Teacher" night in August at Cypress Ridge Elementary School in Clermont. She had transferred there with a friend from Orange County's Oakland Avenue Charter School so they could co-teach. Parents poured into the classroom with their introductions; eager children hugged her neck, and all the while, the smiling "Ms. Rayburn" felt numb inside. The news a day earlier from her checkup shocked her: Cancer was thriving on her ovaries. She hadn't noticed any symptoms. She had been busy with her work, her husband, Todd, 39; sons, Tanner, 7, and Tucker, 9, and the boys' baseball games. But soon she learned that only one other person diagnosed with her type of cancer had ever had "long-term" survival -- in that case, five years, Rayburn said. Most died within a year. She was destined for invasive abdominal surgery right away. Chemotherapy would follow. Now Rayburn is in the midst of the "atomic bomb" of chemotherapy -- a potent regime that will last for the next six months. The first round left her without hair and so dehydrated she wound up back in the hospital for eight days. Her second course was last week. It will leave her weak and feeling sick for another 10 days or so, before doing it again after a small reprieve. With IVs hooked up and her laptop balanced on her knees, Rayburn blogs from her chair during chemotherapy treatments. Messages from her students, friends and family keep her going, she said. Sometimes her former students conclude with her favorite sign-off: "You Rock." One message was from a student who would have been in her second-grade class this year: Mrs. Rayburn please get better soon. I want to be able to visit you and tell you about school. Michael T. Another is from a former student at First United Methodist Church in Clermont: I hope you feel better. I have been praying for you. Love Shelby. P.S. You were the best teacher in kindergarten. Her former students at Oakland Avenue Charter School raised more than $1,200 for Rayburn by donating money so they could wear jeans to school. Others have donated through the CaringBridge site. She wasn't at her new job long enough before the cancer diagnosis, so she is without a paycheck. While she is covered by her husband's health insurance, the donations have helped with the unexpected loss of income. Her husband, a human-resources employee at Universal Studios, said her blogging is without censorship or editing, always from the heart and often raw. It's a side of a teacher that most students never see. Thursday, Sept. 27, 2:06 p.m. The familiarity of a hospital bed. The sound of fluids being opened and hung on the IV pole. More unfamiliar voices. My arm is being squeezed. Something in my mouth. Must be taking my vitals. Familiar voices. Can't focus on the face. Familiar touch on my head, my hand. Tracie? Jo? I just can't focus. I'm going to be sick. The familiar voice brings me a bowl, rubs my back, cold wash cloth on my face. It's ok, It's ok, It's ok. Dry heaves, dry heaves and more dry heaves. But, for some reason it feels good to do it. More than 13,000 people have logged on to Rayburn's blog since August, and more than 900 have left messages for her. Many are repeat readers; some daily. About 73,000 families with various health crises in 40 countries use the CaringBridge site, started in 1997 by a woman whose 9-day-old baby died in surgery. For Rayburn, the blog is her new chalkboard, where the lessons now aren't always easy to hear. I know for some of you it's hard to hold back your tears. But, hold it together people! I need your strength, not your sadness. I need your smiles, not your frowns. I need you to be witty, not take pity. (Am I a teacher or what!!??! Dr. Seuss has nothin' on me baby!) -30- FOLLOWUP Date: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 Section: LOCAL & STATE Edition: FINAL Page: B2 Source: Kumari Kelly, Sentinel Staff Writer Blogging teacher, 39, dies of cancer Thousands read Tisha Rayburn's accounts of her chemotherapy. CLERMONT -- They connected through her blog. Students, teachers, friends, family and strangers followed teacher Tisha Rayburn's monthslong journey after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She shared her grueling chemotherapy treatments, doctor's visits, surgeries, and always, her thoughts and feelings. On Tuesday morning, Rayburn, 39, died from complications of the disease. Through the Web site, caringbridge.org, Rayburn touched hearts with her poignant and honest writing -- some from her hospital bed. Thousands visited the site. At 2:16 a.m. Tuesday, her husband, Todd Rayburn, posted this update to the blog: Although the journey is over we will continue to DRIVE ON! Tish has gone home to be with the Lord. Rayburn, an elementary-school teacher in Orange and Lake counties and a mother of two sons, Tucker and Tanner, shared her story with the Orlando Sentinel in October after former students from Oakland Avenue Charter School in Orange County and future students in Lake County's Cypress Ridge Elementary School began staying connected via the site. She endured several months of "atomic bomb" levels of chemotherapy only to have doctors discover more tumors. She shared her fears, anger and humor on the Web site. Friends such as Orange County teacher Liz Long made regular appearances. By Tuesday, more than 40,700 people had logged in. "We don't regret any of it," Todd Rayburn said of the public final months of his wife's life. "It pulled a lot of people together." In the past several days, he had been updating the blog on Tisha's platelet levels, their two sons' baseball games, and other comings and goings, including the final trip home. Hospice nurses were called to the family's Clermont home Monday. "We were all over the U.S. with the responses we got," Todd Rayburn said of his wife's blog. The last post by Tisha on the site was March 17: "I am praying to let go of the control issues and just give it back to God. I did that for a while, then I got mad at him, and took it all back. Now, I am praying to let it go, ask for his help, and know that I am in His hands. It will all be fine. I don't like it, but, it's ok." -30-
Guidance from an elder brother
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