This is a story about a lot of people, but it's mostly about Ellen Mangus-Toy. In the pages below many great folks will be revealed, but it is Ellen who is the main character here. The story starts with us...
To tell the tale on how Ellen and Jaime's cancer stories converge we have to go back a few years. Ellen had just been named the new Head Volleyball coach at Kiski Area. She was holding one of her first open gyms and Jaime came in to express interest in helping out as an assistant. Jaime was fresh out of college and hoping to get a job in the district teaching math. We didn't know Jaime at the time but we knew her story very well. We knew that Jaime had battled leukemia in High school and again while she was a student at St. Vincent. We may have questioned how much volleyball Jaime knew, but the bottom line was this. If anyone can teach our athletes about courage and perseverance, it was Jaime. Little did we know at that time that it would be Ellen and I who would need the lesson.
Between then and now Jaime jumped in with both feet. She attended clinics and coached Junior Olympics and has become a fine volleyball coach. She also did get a job at the Kiski Area Intermediate School teaching math to 7th and 8th graders. Last year she even got to take on the Head Coaching duties while Ellen dealt with what was thought to be stomach ulcers. Ellen had been having some minor discomfort, and when she got sick from what we thought was a reaction to a flu shot it was time to get closer look. Tests were done and results were pending.
Then came the infamous "bus ride". The team was on its way to Franklin Regional for its last game of last season. Ellen's gastric doctor called with the bad news. Ellen had an gastric cancer. I have heard on many occasions when things like this happen that there is a sound, a deafening roaring in your ears, your world suddenly seems so chaotic and out of control . I remember feeling so far away when she called me, that it was impossible for me to get there quickly enough. I remember having to gather our kids, Aly,nineteen and Mason, fifteen, and give them the news. That was undoubtedly the hardest thing I have ever had to do as a parent. I remember that the half hour drive from Vandergrift to Franklin Regional seemed to take hours. When we arrived we found Ellen outside on a swing set. We talked and hugged and cried. I told Ellen that if she wanted me to gather her things I would take her home. Courage, that night, was Ellen saying no, I am putting myself back together and going in there to coach. I don't know if the players had any idea what was going on, but if they watched me they had to know something was wrong. The National anthem, made me cry so hard that I couldn't control it. The thought that we may never get to do this again was overwhelming. I really don't know how Ellen did it that night. I was a mess. We had a secret weapon there with us that night. I remember at one point Jaime hugging me, and saying very softly but very powerfully "this is going to be alright". Knowing where Jaime had been, I believed her.
Jaime had plenty of support during her battles with leukemia, and immediately went to work of helping us with fundraisers at both Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen. She said that she felt it was her responsibility to pay it forward for all the times she had received support from the community. It was just before another benefit held by the Leechburg teachers that we found out that Jaime's leukemia had returned. I was supposed to be the spokesperson for our family. Thank everyone for their efforts and put on a strong face. I didn't think I could read what I had written. I'm not sure I believed most of it anymore. It dealt in faith and I must admit that mine was shaken. Again, it was Jaime who steadied me and told me it was what I had to do, what people came to hear, and again, she was right.
While Ellen and Jaime's battles with cancer continue, I'm sure both would agree that the valuable friendships we have forged have been priceless. We have created a vast system of support for one and other that extends deeply into each others families and friends. It has been awesome to watch happen. It is Love by its very definition. I've never been one who believed to strongly in coincidence. I think that at this particular time we were all destined to be together like this. Two families drawing on each other for courage and faith. May God bless us all!