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Orlando Sentinel: Cancer, love shared
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-
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