Irony can be a cruel factor of life, especially when it means a person who has spent the entirety of their life helping others is handed an impossibly frightening situation such as cancer in return. Even the kindest and most compassionate of people can be faced with cancer, and that’s exactly the situation that Southmoreland language arts teacher Mrs. Jenna Hixson was faced with.
“Six weeks of no physical activity is very dangerous,” said Mrs. Hixson. “My mind has been racing. I wondered how can I help people going through similar battles? So I developed a new website and the biggest and best random act of kindness in Southmoreland history.”
The Random Acts of Kindness Club is a group of students, led by Mrs. Hixson, whose only aim is to better the lives of those around them. Mrs. Hixson works on projects for the club year round to fulfill her love of bringing people joy who need it most.
“Nobody is indestructible” said Ms. Jean Carey, a member of the Southmoreland faculty. “Something like this teaches you that nobody is immune to it. (Mrs. Hixson) is living proof that it can happen to the most kind and generous people.”
Mrs. Carey’s twin sister Julie was diagnosed with cancer two months after Mrs. Hixson. That has given Mrs. Carey a new perspective on the battle Mrs. Hixson has been waging.
Mrs. Hixson has been an important part of Southmoreland High School’s curricular and extracurricular activities since she began teaching at the school 12 years ago. Mrs. Hixson is known for her unwavering ability to brighten the day of anyone around her and her always contagious positivity and excitement.
“I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like or doesn’t have a good relationship with Mrs. Hixson,” said senior Abbie Kubasky. “She always spreads positivity throughout SHS and inspires many to be as strong and positive as her.”
Recently, Mrs. Hixson underwent multiple surgeries due to her being diagnosed with stage 1B cancer, proving that bad things may happen even to the best of people.
Mrs. Hixson goes above and beyond for the enlightenment of her students everyday. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that she was working on numerous projects during her recovery.
“It’s a really good way for all of us to come together as one” said senior Lexei Belzer. “There are so many different personalities in the school but we can all take part in this club because of our shared desire to help people.”
Despite her positive outlook, the journey from diagnosis to remission has not been as easy as Mrs. Hixson makes it sound.
“I amped myself up so much for the fight against the cancer that I could handle having it,” said Mrs. Hixson. “After it was ‘over’ was the hard part. The fear that it might be hiding somewhere and the change from such overwhelming support during the fight to maybe not as much after were hard to deal with.”
The diagnosis affected more than just Mrs. Hixson; it had a severe impact on her family and loved ones as well.
“It hit my mother the hardest,” said Mrs. Hixson. “As a mother I know I could handle my own cancer, but I could never handle something like this happening to my child, so I can’t even imagine her pain.”
Despite how hard the battle against her cancer has been, Mrs. Hixson is grateful that the recovery process has not been quite as difficult.
Physically, it is amazing what the body can endure,” said Mrs. HIxson. “Mentally, it is amazing what those around you can help the mind to endure! My students and friends have been so considerate. I’ve really learned the power of a greeting card.”
Mrs. Hixson had been away from school for 47 days. While she loves her job as a teacher, she had mixed feelings about returning.
“Although I was ready to welcome normalcy with open arms, returning to work was very emotional,” said Mrs. Hixson. “Mostly, because even though this has been an awful reason to be off work, I have had six weeks with (my son) Reed. I’ll miss getting to sit and watch Netflix with my child all day, but I realized I was ready to go back to the ‘real world.’”
Most importantly, Mrs. Hixson has recovered from her struggle with cancer and has learned numerous lessons along the way.
“As an English teacher, I’m constantly telling my students to avoid clichés, but I’ve seen how many cliches are actually true,” she said. “You never know what cancer feels like until you have it. Once you face something as serious as cancer you’re constantly reevaluating your priorities and putting things in place to make sure you are happy with your life. Above all, I’ve learned I don’t want to die.”
Mrs. Hixson’s students wish her the best and could not be more excited to have her back in class.
“What Mrs. Hixson went through recently was really tough on her,” said Kubasky. “It was a serious issue, but even through a struggle like this, there’s not one better at keeping a smile on their face than Mrs. Hixson.”
At mybytheway.org, you can find Mrs. Hixson’s story. The purpose of this website is to show “that cancer does not define a person,” especially Mrs. Hixson who refuses to let it be her defining trait. It is just another stage in her life.
“My life has spanned 12,219 days, yet I had been focusing on the less than 100 since my diagnosis,” said Mrs. Hixson. “That was when I realized my disease was simply a ‘by the way’ in the many stories that make up my life. Those were the stories that defined me, and those were the stories that would give me the positivity and strength to make it through my battle.”