Mama Pak’s Emotional Journey

Beloved teacher has had a year filled with grief and disbelief.

Anni+Pakradouni%2C+right%2C+is+a+beloved+teacher+at+Toll+Middle+School.

Photo provided by Anni Pakradouni

Anni Pakradouni, right, is a beloved teacher at Toll Middle School.

By Katherine Nalchajyan and Breann Pimenta

For most people, February 24, 2022 was just an ordinary day, but for the Pakradouni family it was anything but. 

That was the day they found out that their 40-year-old daughter Jennifer, a Hoover High graduate, had only weeks to live.

The family converged at the home of Jennifer and her husband Grant Ching to share in their grief and disbelief. The events of that night  will stick with everyone in that house, in that room, forever. A moment no one ever expected or even imagined would happen, actually happened.

A few days earlier, doctors found out that the cancer, which was originally diagnosed in November 2019, had spread to Jennifer Pakradouni Ching’s lymph nodes around her heart and lungs. Now, after two years of chemotherapy and three different surgeries, they told Jennifer and Grant she had weeks to live.       

Jennifer’s mom Anni Pakradouni, a beloved teacher at Toll Middle School, said, “Jennifer wanted to spend her last weeks at home surrounded by the people she loved. She said she wanted no ‘pity parties.’

“She was such a trooper. She was so positive with everything, even with things related to her cancer. She was always looking at the bright side of everything. We just spent her last weeks enjoying her company and doing fun things, whatever she wanted.”

Jennifer Pakradouni died on March 12, 2022, leaving behind her identical twin sister, Diana, and her sister, Katherine, who were also Hoover High graduates, her mom, Anni, her dad, Sevag , and Grant, her husband of two years.

Anni Pakradouni has not only been dealing with the loss of her daughter, but also fighting her own physical and emotional battles.

Anni Pakradouni had been fighting stage 1 endometrial cancer through hormone therapy since November of 2021. Between the time they were told Jennifer had weeks to live and her passing away, Pakradouni found out she had a second type of cancer called stage 1 serous adenocarcinoma, a more aggressive type of cancer, for which she had to have immediate surgery. 

Anni Pakradouni  was going to have major cancer surgery just weeks after losing her daughter, a situation no one would ever think of being in, but that implausible day became a reality. 

Learning how to cope with the death of a child while fighting her own battle opened up a new perspective for her. 

Fighting through that tough surgery wasn’t just for Pakradouni herself, but for Jennifer as well. 

“You learn a lot when you’re diagnosed with cancer and when you are dealing with death,” Anni Pakradouni said. “Especially a child’s death.”

Healing has been a gradual process and is something that she’s still dealing with currently with the help of family and friends, as well as the beautiful spirit of her daughter Jennifer. Pakradouni felt that her daughter was like her guardian angel watching over her every step of the way.

It has made the process of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments go a little bit easier. 

Anni Pakradouni has constantly felt the love and support from her GUSD family, which has helped her during this process. 

“Mrs. Pakradouni is loved by everyone who meets her,” colleague Curtis Shih said.

“She always cares for others even when she is experiencing grief and challenges in her own life.”

Jennifer DeLadurantey, the principal of Toll Middle School, described Pakradouni as a special teacher.

“She has impacted the lives of students and their families as well as her peers,” DeLadurantey said. “Her exuberance for teaching extends beyond a subject matter.”

Pakradouni has been teaching in GUSD for 34 years and has always been a stable person at Toll – where she’s affectionately known as Mama Pak – helping not only her students but her fellow colleagues as well. 

To Pakradouni, the most important part of teaching is making sure her students feel safe and comfortable in her classroom and that comes from the love for her students, no matter what background or situation they come from.

 “What goes around comes around” is Pakradouni’s trademark quote that’s posted in her classroom which she said describes her mindset toward teaching and has helped her create such a safe environment for her students.

“There are things that I understand about kids and what they are experiencing during this time in their lives. I want to make sure I’m there to support them, and help them get through it,” Pakradouni said. 

“Being a pre-teen and teen is emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially challenging and so stressful, especially in middle school and the beginning of high school; you need people around you that can help you,support you, and not judge you. I feel like I can do that because I love kids, and I think they’re amazing.”

Pakradouni expects to be back at Toll in January of this school year, the long-awaited first day in almost a full year where she will drive her car into the Toll Middle School staff parking lot and get ready to greet her students.

When she arrives, it will be the hopeful, last semester of the 2022-2023 school year. 

The joy each kid will feel from hearing the stories about Pakradouni to actually getting to meet the selfless soul in person will be priceless.

From the minute the 8:30 a.m. bell rings to start the day until the 3:09 p.m. ending bell, Toll will feel whole again. 

Mama Pak will be back in her class, doing the thing she loves most, with some of  the people she loves most. 

This story was originally published on Tornado Times on September 27, 2022.