Teacher, cancer survivor spreads joy to those affected by the disease

Cancer is a disease no one wants to experience, but most people who get told the dreadful news will descend into depression and hopelessness. They’ll feel that their life has been ripped away from them and the hardships pouring in will never end. Fortunately, Mrs. Jenna Hixson is not most people.

Mrs. Hixson, a well-known and beloved teacher at Southmoreland High School,  has been teaching for 13 years. She went to Seton Hill University and graduated in 2006. Her first year of teaching was at Penn-Trafford for a video production class. She got her start at Southmoreland, where she was a student teacher under  and “fell madly in love” with the school, students, and district.

“I knew I would never be truly happy until I made my career here,” she said, adding that Southmoreland “is something special and that you have a family when you come to this school that others don’t have.”

Mrs. Hixson grew up and lives in small town Acme and plans to live in a small town her whole life. “I’m a small town girl with big dreams and hopes,” she said.

She has one son named Reed and has been married for eight years to Mr. Chris Hixson, a gym teacher here.

Mrs. Hixson said she realized she wanted to be an English teacher when her Godmother stole some old college textbooks out of somebody’s garbage cans. She said how she was always “super nerdy when I was little and always reading, I always had a book in my face and a dictionary and I had big glasses.”

Once she got those textbooks, Mrs. Hixson would set up a makeshift classroom “with my stuffed animals as students, her chalkboard, and then she would “play” the teacher. When she got older she realized how much she enjoyed helping others and when she could help someone understand something, she said it was such “a rewarding feeling.” She also enjoys talking and as a teacher, she gets to do that all the time. She said how it was like “All of the things I enjoyed most in life coming together” when she chose her career.

Her college professors were also major influences when it came to her motivation and inspiration teaching and with English. As a “being of passion,” she loved how they were passionate and got excited about what they taught and she could tell it “set their hearts on fire.” It showed her that your job can be your passion and your passion can be your job.

Mrs. Hixson  is the founder of Reading Buddies and the Random Acts of Kindness club. She is always trying to spread kindness and happiness and complete good deeds. A life changing event that recently occurred in her life, has influenced and allowed her to create her greatest project yet.

Mrs. Hixson was diagnosed with cancer in July 2017 during a routine exam. They discovered a type of cancer that most women die from. She said how important health is to her and that’s why she was lucky that they found it early enough, despite it being aggressive. She said now because of that she gets to be “a success story instead of a great Southmoreland tragedy.”

When she found out she said how “Every cliche I tell people to avoid in their writing I was living.” She had a lot of fear not only for herself, but for her 2-year-old son, Reed. She had the fear that “What if this does just spiral out of control?” She said how you don’t remember much when you’re that young and what if she did die and Reed would “never have known me as his mother or how much I loved him.”

She had two surgeries and was then declared cancer free on September 21, 2017.

Once she found out she no longer had the dreadful disease, she said fear once again set in as “What if they missed something? Now they’re not treating me while it’s growing inside me?” She said it was the hardest thing she had to go through in her life, and once in recovery she went “through a funk.” She said she “felt scared, alone, and sad” because she still had that fear. That’s when her next big project stemmed from her mind. “What do I do when I’m scared and sad? I have to come up with some project to do.”

She decided to take pictures for people and their families who are battling or who have beat cancer because when she found out she had it, she immediately scheduled her own with the fear that Reed might lose his mom and his memory of her. However, on the day of the pictures, Reed was not cooperating at all. In tears at the thought of not being able to get them, the photographer then suggested that her and Mr.Hixson lay on their stomachs and see if he would climb on top of them. He did, and she said how it is now her favorite picture.

As a mother she said how children obsessing over illnesses and worrying about them isn’t healthy, but one day plans to show him the pictures and use it as a life lesson.

She got more pictures done after beating the deadly disease because she said how she “wanted cancer survivor pictures.” She knows how expensive cancer is and said how lucky she is that she was able to afford these pictures, but not everyone has this opportunity. She decided to get help from students and create an event for families going through one of the hardest battles they will ever face. With the help of lots of volunteers and sponsors, she planned a day for families to get their pictures taken whether they are battling cancer or have beat it, and they’ll get their pictures for free. All the families got one of their pictures printed on a canvas, a gift, and a flash drive with the rest of them on it.

She got the idea a year ago and planned the rest of that year until April, when she put it into motion. She said she “went into the day thinking it was gonna crush me because a lot of the people were still fighting cancer, but there wasn’t a moment of sadness the entire day.”

They photographed over 100 people and because of putting the event and their story on Facebook, more families and people came forward. She said that in August they did one family whose little girl, Chloe, goes to Southmoreland and is in remission from bone cancer.

Facing something as scary as death is something most people never will face until later in life. Mrs. Hixson said how the people who participated in the event showed that “because of family, love, and hope, they were happy” and that it showed her how “you can truly be happy in any circumstance you just have to find a way to do it or find what will.”

About Loralee Yutzy
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