Fundraiser helps offset bills for stricken teacher

By P.J. Standlee

There are a lot of good reasons for students to hold fundraisers and car washes, but lately it seems that the purpose of too many of these is to aid a teacher or fellow student battling the ravages of cancer.

That’s exactly what approximately 40 students and parents from Kyrene del Cielo Elementary School were doing with their Saturday afternoon as they washed lines of cars to raise money for teacher Jeannie Sawyer, who contracted lung cancer during the recent school year.

A teacher since 1994, the 44-year-old Sawyer has taught second and third grade at Cielo since 2001.

She grew up in Arizona and went to college in Eugene, Ore., where she also met her husband, Bruce. They have two children, Jared, 20, and Lindsey, 17. The Sawyer family returned to live in Arizona in 1999.

All of the Cielo parents and her students agree: Sawyer brings a lot more to the classroom than learning.

“She is not only a teacher but a real friend to the kids,” said Stephanie Richardson, one of the parents who is organizing the fundraising effort to assist Sawyer with the inevitable pile of medical bills.

“She knows each student at a personal level.”

The news about Sawyer spread quickly among the parents and students after Sawyer was diagnosed with adenocarcionoma, the most common lung cancer that forms on the exterior of the lungs.

According to the Cancer Treatment Center of America, 40 percent of lung cancer cases are the adenocarcionoma type. In addition, the cancer appears more often in women than men.

During the school year, Richardson said, Sawyer was continually misdiagnosed with pneumonia. It wasn’t until the end of the school year that she received the cancer diagnosis.

In support of their teacher, some 150 students from the past three years and their parents have rallied to the aid of the popular teacher.

With wet towels, hoses and bathing suits, Sawyer’s students raised $1,000. However, Richardson said that is Sawyer is probably facing $150,000 in bills as she heads to Okalahoma’s Cancer Center of America for treatment.

The initial prognosis, Richardson said, gave Sawyer only six months to live. After researching adenocarcionoma on the Internet, Sawyer and her husband elected to participate in an experimental treatment.

On Friday the fundraising group held a fundraiser at SkateLand, while one student’s father will donate all of the proceeds from his music shows and CD sales to Sawyer’s fund.

Richardson said that Earhardt also donated a car to be raffled at a future date. The group also plans to create a website to coordinate donations and events: www.jeannieshope.com

Former student Andie Wortman, 9, and mother Jannet Wortmann said Sawyer’s stories and dedication to students inside and outside class has made her an important figure for everyone.

“I just want Mrs. Sawyer to feel better,” Andie said.

“She goes to all of their birthdays, football games and recitals,” added Jannet. “Anything after school, she would go to.”

Many of Sawyer’s students, such as Josh Andersen, feel dedicated to their teacher after she decided to follow her second-grade class into third grade.

Yet it is with some degree of irony that Sawyer was recognized earlier this year by Wrangler News for her class’ participation in donating 100 “Jared boxes” to children facing chemotherapy and prolonged illness in four Valley hospitals.

It seems only fitting that her students now help her raise money for her own battle with cancer.

Richardson said the group is still considering their next fundraising event. Donations, though, can be made through the Jeannie Sawyer Hope Fund with Bank of America, account number 4674411351. For additional information, Richardson can be reached at (480) 777-0906.