Dec 14, 2015 2:45 PM

Bethlehem teen's generosity comes full circle with cancer diagnosis

The Associated Press

CONCORD (AP) — A high school principal who fought cancer with the generosity of her students is now helping one of the teens through a similar fight.

Two days after Aurora Brown learned she had kidney cancer this fall, she sent a Facebook message to her former principal, Courtney Vashaw, who had been diagnosed last spring with a rare and aggressive form of soft tissue cancer. Brown and other seniors at Profile Junior-Senior High School in Bethlehem received national attention when they donated $8,000 to Vashaw that they had raised for a class trip.

When she heard about Brown's diagnosis, Vashaw said her first thought was "This is not fair."

"I felt like all of them deserved a bye. They did this fantastic thing, and none of them should ever have to go through this," Vashaw said. "I was just heartbroken for her."

Brown, now a freshman at Plymouth State University, did not respond to several requests for comment. But on an online fundraising page she set up, she described her struggle to pay her spring tuition and cover medical expenses while attending classes and holding down a job.

"I have insurance but my insurance doesn't cover everything. I work part time for minimum wage at Burger King, but due to my health I cannot always make it to work," she wrote. "I'm honestly very embarrassed that I have to ask for help in my time of need, but I do not know what else to do."

Vashaw said her biggest concern for Brown was logistical: Did she have the resources to get the help she needed, particularly in the first few scary weeks after the diagnosis.

"The job of an educator never stops. You are a teacher after you stop being a teacher, even when you're a principal, you're still a teacher," she said. "It doesn't stop at night, it doesn't stop in the summer. And if you're fortunate enough that one of your kids reaches out to you, you do what you can to make sure they get what they need."

So when other members of Brown's graduating class asked Vashaw if she needed any additional help in her own cancer fight, she pointed them in Brown's direction instead. Many ended up making contributions to Brown's site.

"I'm good, thank you. You have done so much, more than enough," Vashaw told them. "The thing that has to happen right here, right now, is we need to take care of Aurora."

On her fundraising site, Brown said the $4,600 she raised would alleviate much of the stress she faced.

"With school paid for now I only have to worry about the cost of living and medical expense which gives me a little bit more time to focus on my health," she said.

Vashaw's doctors, meanwhile, told her last week that she is now cancer-free.

"One of the things I've learned through this whole process is if you can try to pay it forward and try to give back to others, or just try to spread a little joy especially for yourself on days when you feel cruddy, then you're going to feel better in the long run," Vashaw said. "Even if it's something really little, like buying someone coffee, your day is going to be better and hopefully someone else's is going to be better, too."


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