When someone goes through a serious medical battle on the North Coast, it always brings out the fundraising-and-support best in Cambrians. But when that someone is a beloved 34-year old middle-school science teacher who gave birth to her third child in November, the support is especially intense and loving.
And when, in a letter to her students, Kambria Wesch-Doherty turned her life-threatening illness into yet another science project for her Santa Lucia Middle School pupils, then even complete strangers understand immediately why many feel this woman — wife and mother of three children 6 and younger — is so special.
DeDe Basile, the mother of a seventh-grade student, understands.
She said of Wesch-Doherty’s letter, emailed to middle school students and posted on www.caring bridge.org, “the first sentence said she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer,” but after that, “it was a really great email, reminding them of cells and DNA that they learned (about) at the beginning of the year from her, writing of how cancer cells divide and travel.
“She said she had set up years of science experiments for her students,” Basile recalled, and now Wesch-Doherty feels she has become the science project. She said she hoped to see them soon, and that she didn’t have any hair, but she still has a smile on her face and would like to answer any questions they had for her.
Wesch-Doherty closed the email by reminding her students to “learn all that you can, there is so much out there to discover.”
Colleen Poynter, a fellow teacher, said of her good friend, “When she makes up her mind, she’s a force to be reckoned with. She does nothing halfway, it’s always full throttle … And it’s the same with this … I’ve never heard her say, ‘Poor me.’ It’s always, ‘Let’s get this done. I have to be here for my kids.’ Her focus is her kids.”
Wesch-Doherty said in her journal that the hardest part is “to balance being mom and also taking care of myself.” Although “no one has survived” the kind of cancer she has, she wrote, “I am hopeful that, because I am not the typical case of this cancer, I may be able to outlast what others could not.”
“We’re her family away from her family, and we miss her like family,” said John Calandro, the school principal. “We’re all ready and willing to do whatever we can. And we’re keeping her seat warm until she gets back.
“We know she’s tough, and she’s proving exactly how she is: determined, smart and can be downright stubborn when she needs to be. … Would we be surprised if she can prolong this, beat this? Not really. Because if anyone can, it will be her.”
The medical crisis
After Willow — the youngest daughter of Wesch-Doherty and her husband, Gavin Doherty — was born in November, doctors discovered and removed the mother’s grapefruit-sized right ovary.
The news three weeks later was devastating: an extremely rare and aggressive cancer (neuroendocrine carcinoma high grade) was not only in the ovary but in other sites throughout her body and brain.
Poynter said, “The next words out of her mouth were, ‘When can we start the treatment? Let’s do it now.’”
Doctors have launched a dauntingly aggressive treatment regime of chemotherapy and radiation, but the family knows they’re battling against grim odds for the life of the instructor many students refer to as “the best science teacher ever.”
So many people want to help, with everything from planning three fundraisers and bringing in meals to babysitting Willow.
It’s almost as if Wesch-Doherty’s supporters feel they can help fend off the ferocity of the future by matching that fierceness with all the love and caring they can give.
“She knows she probably won’t live to be an old woman,” a teary Poynter said, “but she’s such a fighter. She’s awesome.”
• • •
Fundraisers for Kambria Wesch-Doherty
Pasta, salad and bread dinner, $10. Other baked goods available for purchase. Dine in or drive through. Tickets from students, at all school libraries, Coast Unified School District office and Gym One. Santa Lucia Middle School and Coast Union High School students host the event. 4 to 7 p.m Thursday, Feb. 7, Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St., Cambria. For details or to volunteer, call Lani Zaragoza at 909-1514 or Suzanne Kennedy at 909-0917.
Silent auction with live music, beer, wine and food. Louie Ortega plays at 1 p.m., Shameless at 2 p.m. and The Stellar Band at 3 p.m. Donations accepted at the door; auction donors can call Elizabeth Appel, 927-3693. 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, at Cambria Pines Lodge, 2905 Burton Drive, Cambria.
Silent auction, “Bearcat” tri-tip sandwiches, local wines and beer, live music by Cuesta Ridge and Nada Rasta. Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, Paso Robles Event Center, 2198 Riverside Ave., Paso Robles. $20, tickets at Kahuna’s Surf, 817 12th St., Paso Robles. Kambria’s family and friends host.
Donations may also be made online at http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/kambria-wesch-doherty-battles-cancer/37917 and www.caringbridge.org.
UPDATE, Monday, Feb. 18: The location of the Feb. 23 fundraiser has been changed due to rain in the forecast.
Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.