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Battling back: High school principal beats breast cancer, educates others

By David Talley | Published Wednesday, October 5, 2016
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Strong Together

STRONG TOGETHER – Members of the Boyd and Paradise volleyball teams came together before their game Tuesday to honor Boyd High School Principal Barbara Stice (right) and Boyd volleyball coach Dusty Crafton (left). Stice is a breast cancer survivor, and Crafton lost her brother, Zac Webb, the day before. Zac Webb was fighting lung cancer. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Looking back at a series of Facebook posts from last fall, Boyd High School Principal Barbara Stice knows she’s in a better place today.

Stice was diagnosed with two forms of breast cancer in July 2015 – lobular and ductal carcinoma. After surgery and treatment, the principal is now cancer-free.

But a different Stice smiles back at the camera while sitting in the bleachers of a 2015 volleyball game. The scars from her mastectomy are still painful – physically and emotionally. The surgery was Aug. 25, the same day students returned to school that year. Her once-long hair is short, lost to chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

But Stice is at the game, nonetheless.

A short video of a boat ride follows in the Facebook feed. Stice admits she’s always enjoyed fishing, but in the months after her diagnosis, it became a near-obsession, a needed distraction from the stress of the disease.

“I tried to not let cancer take over my life,” she said. “I had too much to do to let it do that. When you’re faced with something like that, you’ve got a choice. You can let it eat you or you can eat it.”

In the months since, Stice’s hair has grown out, although still shorter than it was before treatment. The cancer is gone, removed with the mastectomy, and she’s scheduled an elective plastic surgery later this year to replace what cancer took from her.

“So they tell you when you go in for a mastectomy that they’re going to take off the breasts and then look in your lymph nodes,” she said. “Lymph nodes are like a train of pearls. They’ll check them until they find cancer in them and take them all until they find one that’s clean. I had to have another surgery because they didn’t find them all.

“I kept telling everybody, I’m going to be 50 on my next birthday, and all I want are hair and boobs. I’ve got the hair, but no boobs.”

After a few days to recover from the surgery, Stice returned to school. Superintendent Ted West had briefed teachers on her condition at convocation the day before classes started. While West and others encouraged her to take her time returning to work, Stice said working, like fishing, gave her a way to look beyond the disease. Apart from her surgery and a week recovering from chemotherapy, Stice missed little school.

“I told [West] many times, ‘if I’m sitting at home, I’ll just be there feeling sorry for myself,'” she said. “I don’t have time for that. I want to be here.

“I’m going to get myself in more trouble at home because I can’t sit still,” she said. “I do stuff, lift things, clean things that I’m not supposed to be doing. [At work], at least, if I pick up a pencil, I’m good.”

While Stice’s return to BISD was a way to move beyond her diagnosis, she’s not afraid to talk about it with teachers and students.

“I’m pretty open,” she said. “I don’t talk about it a lot, but it’s something that impacted my life.”

Still Standing

STILL STANDING – Boyd Principal Barbara Stice stands with the crowd at Tuesday’s volleyball game against Paradise. Stice rarely missed a volleyball match while battling breast cancer last year. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Stice said she used her story during long work days to remind staff that everyone is dealing with issues in their private lives, but there are times they have to put that to the side and focus on their students.

“We all have busy, busy lives we have to put away for these kids,” she said.

Stice’s effort to put students first, despite her devastating diagnosis, has not gone unnoticed. The 2015 volleyball team appreciated Stice’s effort to attend their games, and they celebrated her along with their district title last fall when she presented them with the championship trophy.

Stice said the learning process for students continues, and sadly, they were reminded of the disease’s devastating effects again this week. On Monday, volleyball coach Dusty Crafton lost her brother, Zac Webb, to lung cancer.

Prior to his death, the volleyball team planned a fundraiser for Tuesday night’s match in his honor for the Cancer Support Community of North Texas Tarrant County Clubhouse. It included an auction to which each advisory group was asked to donate. (A story on Webb and the fundraiser was published in the Oct. 1 Wise County Messenger.)

Stice said the weeks leading up to Webb’s death provided more teachable moments, and she stepped in, encouraging students to get involved with the cause.

She reminded them it’s not about just one person, it’s about the disease.

“I was trying to tell them, ‘you may not know these people, but you do know people fighting the fight. It’s everywhere. It could be you next.’

“When you get a kid in here, and you feel like a teachable moment is there, you use it,” she said.

Stice said as she continues to move forward, she will seek and seize those moments in an effort to help and strengthen others.

But she acknowledges her personal journey isn’t over. A glance in the mirror reminds the educator how far she’s come and how far she has to go.

“It’s still an ongoing battle because you still feel like you’ve lost something you’re never going to get back,” Stice said. “Sometimes you have to lose a battle or two to win the war.”

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