“Ready for the fight”

Talking+with+her+students%2C+AP+Literature+and+Humanities+teacher+Beth+Evans+smiles+during+her+celebration+in+advisory.+Gone+for+the+remainder+of+the+school+year%2C+Evans+will+be+undergoing+treatment+for+a+form+of+blood+cancer.+

Lucas Barr

Talking with her students, AP Literature and Humanities teacher Beth Evans smiles during her celebration in advisory. Gone for the remainder of the school year, Evans will be undergoing treatment for a form of blood cancer.

By Lucas Barr, Liberty High School - TX

In over 20 years of teaching and four years of education, nothing could have prepared AP Literature and Humanities teacher Beth Evans for what she had to say. 

The news was unlike any lecture, lesson, or advice she had given before.

Weighing her down for weeks, Evans gathered all of her Humanities students during advisory and counselors on Feb. 28 so that she could tell everyone at once. 

Leaving to receive treatment for a rare blood cancer, she would not be returning after spring break with Friday being her last day of the school year.

Instantly met with an outpouring of love, Evans’ final week of the year culminated in a celebration organized to “shower her with love.”

“I’m just so humbled by how loving my students have been, so gracious,” Evans said. “They only found out on Friday, and they’re immediately just jumping into giving me all these kind words and emails, even their parents, and the whole community. To be so immediately moved and then open to share how you feel is so important.” 

I’m just so humbled by how loving my students have been, so gracious. They only found out on Friday and, they’re immediately just jumping into giving me all these kind words and emails,”

— Beth Evans

Although Evans shared the news only last week, her condition is something she has been battling with since July. Evans first discovered that something was wrong after receiving a call from her doctor after a routine appointment. 

“My doctor’s office followed up right away,” Evans recalled. “The next morning they said, ‘You’re really anemic. You need to go to this oncologist.’ And then the oncologist immediately admitted me to the hospital to get a blood transfusion and then also get a bone marrow test just to see what’s going on.”

Slowly things began to make sense. Anemia explained symptoms that Evans had been experiencing, such as shortness of breath, loss of energy, and headaches.

“In hindsight, I realized I had a lot of those symptoms, but at the time, I was just kind of like having a hard time on my runs,” Evans said. “I was getting to where I was getting out of breath running even like a half a mile, which is really weird for me: I’ve been running for 30 years. I thought it was because I was just getting old. I was, trying to run harder and just trying to push through but then eventually, even walking up a flight of stairs, would be hard.”

Evans soon learned that she had myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow failure disorder, causing her body to produce an insufficient amount of red blood cells. In addition, she has another condition that causes too many platelets to be produced, with doctors determining that she needed immediate treatment.

“I had to have transfusions three different times, I had to have three units,” Evans said. “There are people who obviously need transfusions even a lot longer. Thankfully the medication that I went on ended up like stabilizing my symptoms, but it’s not a long term medication, it won’t work. Eventually, your body mutates through it. You don’t really want to wait for that to happen.”

Everybody’s just made me feel like, ‘Whatever you need.’ There’s never been a minute where I felt like I was being a burden or anybody expected anything different for me,”

— Evans

Despite being on medication, Evans’ treatment has required constant observation all school year.

“I’ve been running in and out for doctor’s appointments,” Evans said. “It’s just been a lot of juggling. In the fall, especially, I had to get a couple different blood transfusions, and I was having to go get my blood checked like every week. Everybody’s just made me feel like, ‘Whatever you need.’ There’s never been a minute where I felt like I was being a burden or anybody expected anything different for me.” 

At this point in her journey, Evans requires a bone marrow transplant to treat the myelodysplastic syndrome. The process comes with a long recovery period and will compromise her immune system, leaving her vulnerable for months.

“I’ve been really fortunate because I actually had two possible donors,” Evans said. “My daughter is the one that’s going to be my donor, but my brother also was a match. The doctors looked not just at how close of a match you are, but at other specific markers, and she was a better fit, but I could have just as easily gotten the bone marrow from my brother. Not everybody even matches with their siblings.” 

While Evans had a match in her family, that is only the case for 30 percent of patients who need a bone marrow transplant. It is even harder for minority populations to find a match, as reported by the Mayo Clinic: “For a Caucasian American, the chance of finding an HLA-matched bone marrow donor through the international registry is around 75 percent. But if the patient belongs to an ethnic minority, let’s say, African American or Hispanic or Middle Eastern, then the chance of finding a donor in the registry drastically drops to less than 25 percent.”

As soon as I saw that email, I was like, I love that. I feel like it’s just this little sign, so I really would encourage people to get involved in the blood drive,”

— Evans

That’s where the biannual Carter BloodCare blood drive on campus set for April 21 can help as donors can volunteer to have their cheek swabbed to enter the bone marrow registry. With the school’s enrollment consisting of nearly 35 percent Asians, students could make a difference. That the drive also happens to fall on Evans’ birthday makes it even better for her.

“It’s not planned, but that’s so fun,” Evans said. “As soon as I saw that email, I was like, I love that. I feel like it’s just this little sign, so I really would encourage people to get involved in the blood drive. It’s gonna be good. I’m going out feeling really positive about it.”

This is a big part of why Evans encourages students to donate blood and join the registry.

“Partly why I really do want to talk about the blood drive was because it was very real for me,” Evans said. “I would look at these bags of blood and think like, somebody went down to give their blood and now it’s in a bag. You just think about how much we need in order to meet all of the needs, and then you just take it for granted when you need it. I’ve been really fortunate because I actually had two possible donors. Especially in minority populations, there just is not nearly the same number of people in the bank. Think how that would feel to know that you were able to [donate bone marrow and save a life]. I mean, that’s a pretty awesome thing.”

Given Evans’ condition, helping to plan the blood drive as co-president of the school’s HOSA chapter is especially meaningful for senior Minuki Medis, a two-time student of Evans.

Provided by Minuki Medis
Posing with Evans during her celebration, senior Minuki Medis was taught by Evans as a sophomore in Humanities and this year in AP Literature.

“I’ve always loved planning the blood drive, because it gives me the opportunity to help others, but this time is special because I know it can help someone else in a similar situation as her,” Medis said. “We’re aiming to have a table at the drive where students can sign up to be a bone marrow donor and such. Donors are crucial and can save lives and it is important that people can get help. Knowing someone in this position makes it even closer to my heart.” 

Even though Evans found a match, she did not know at what point she would have to leave to receive the bone marrow transplant. On hand to help whenever needed was the school’s other AP Literature teacher Katherine Allen.

“I think what is unusual about our relationship is that we’re not just team members, we’re friends,” Allen said. “We have similar philosophies, as far as what we want to accomplish with our students and that kind of thing. I think the biggest thing that about this year with her being sick is making sure that I helped shoulder as much of the burden as possible. We really have worked diligently this school year to make sure everything is planned ahead of time so that if something were to happen, and she would have had to go in earlier for her bone marrow transplant, it wouldn’t have been a burden on the substitute or myself.”

With the rest of the school year planned out, Allen does not want Evans to worry.

She’s honestly more like a friend to me than just a teacher. I know she will be able to handle this because she’s always been such a strong and positive influence and I’m looking forward to seeing her recover well and be healthy,”

— senior Minuki Medis

“First and foremost I would tell her not to worry about anything here,” Allen said. “The entire fourth quarter is taken care of. Her big thing is, is that she doesn’t want to be a burden. And that she’s never a burden, and that I’m here no matter what. Whenever she needs me, she can pick up the phone. She can call me she can text me and I’ll be there for her no matter what. She’s got this, everything’s gonna be great.”

On Friday, the focus of her students was on celebrating Evans as more than 100 students gathered in her classroom for a party in advisory. 

“It’s been really hard,” Medis said. “Mrs. Evans has been my teacher for both sophomore and this year. She’s honestly more like a friend to me than just a teacher. She was really there for me these past three years especially when my family was going through some health issues. I always go into her class and time after time she’s there to cheer me up. I want to tell her how much we all love and support her. I know she will be able to handle this because she’s always been such a strong and positive influence and I’m looking forward to seeing her recover well and be healthy.”

Teaching Humanities alongside Evans for the last three years, Sarah Wiseman explains what it’s been like to be with Evans throughout this journey.

“It’s been really just an honor to work alongside Mrs. Evans all year,” Wiseman said. “Knowing that she’s dealing with such uncertainty about her health, it was really scary at first because she had had several blood transfusions and had a lot of meetings and a lot of questions. She’s just a really good friend and teammate. It was a real joy to be able to be there to help her with all those absences and to be a support to her while she was dealing with all of that.”

Witnessing the wave of love for Evans this last week, Wiseman shares what the compassion has meant to her.

I’ve been thinking about how I could even ever express to my department how much I appreciate what they’ve done. I don’t even feel like I can. It’s just been so full of love and so full of grace for my situation,”

— Evans

“She’s someone that I have a lot of esteem for,” Wiseman said. “It’s been really heartening to see that everyone loves her as much as I do, and that they’re able to kind of wrap her up in us that support. I think just the biggest thing is that [I want her to know] we all love her and we’re going to miss her terribly, and we just want to get well.” 

The constant support on campus has made a big difference for Evans.

“My husband says that things like this bring out the best in people,” Evans said. “I’ve really experienced that, you know, it’s just been a privilege to be able to have people be so supportive, and definitely Ms. Wiseman, Ms. Allen, and then Ms. Patterson, our counselors and really the whole English department. I’ve been thinking about how I could even ever express to my department how much I appreciate what they’ve done. I don’t even feel like I can. It’s just been so full of love and so full of grace for my situation.” 

Armed with the support of her family, friends, colleagues and students, Evans is “ready to get in the fight.”

“Just feeling all the notes, the cards, and all the gifts, it just makes me feel really full,” Evans said. “I’m really not purposely working a job where I’m not like working from home because I like to be around people all day, but I just feel like I’m going out with all these people that of with me. It’s really good.”

This story was originally published on Wingspan on March 6, 2020.