2018-03-22 / News

Lawn teacher uses personal battle to inspire

Liv Scott hopes story will encourage students to raise money for cancer patients

Liv Scott with her father, Olafur Gunnarsson, during her assembly Friday at Lawn School. Liv Scott with her father, Olafur Gunnarsson, during her assembly Friday at Lawn School. A Lawn School teacher is hoping her survival story will inspire students to raise cash for cancer.

Liv Scott, a physical education teacher, was only six days into her new job when, in September 2015, she received a phone call from her doctor that she will never forget.

“You have a 10-centimeter tumor in your chest,” he told her. “It is life threatening.”

Scott set work aside and darted immediately for the emergency room. What unfolded was a five-month battle with lymphoma.

Scott’s presentation Friday launched the middle school’s annual fundraising drive, which continues through March. The money, which can be raised however the students see fit, will be donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Before her presentation, Scott had not told any of her students about the cancer diagnosis that caused her to miss most of the 2015-16 school year. Since then, however, she’s learned about Pennies for Patients, a nationwide charity that has collected 15 billion pennies since 1994. She decided the school’s fundraising initiative would be the perfect opportunity to reveal her secret while raising spare change.

“I could put my own spin on this,” she said about Pennies for Patients. “I’ve been in these exact shoes. I decided to take it over and do it.”

Warning signs

For nine months before her diagnosis, Scott was not feeling well. Her face and limbs were swollen, and she woke up every morning with chest pains.

“I was feeling very uncomfortable,” she said. “I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I could barely breathe.”

Just a day before she received the news, Scott had her school picture taken. She did not see the photograph until the end of the school year, but the image corroborated how she felt. She visited the doctor’s office numerous times, and was told her symptoms could have been for relatively minor ailments, from gluten allergy to dengue fever.

On the morning of Sept. 18, 2015, Scott was administered a CAT scan before heading to work at Lawn. A few hours later, she got that urgent phone call. The scan had found a tumor in her chest, sitting on top of her heart. She spent the next several days in the hospital, waiting for the results of a biopsy, which ultimately came back positive for a form of stage-II non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“It was the longest cancer diagnosis I’d ever heard of,” she said.

The biopsy also revealed the tumor’s threatening size, 3.9 inches, which was the reason for her breathing difficulties. The tumor was obstructing her windpipe.

“I only had one millimeter of breathing,” she said. “It was almost as if I was breathing through a tiny cocktail straw.”

She began six rounds of chemotherapy, which were administered as an intravenous liquid. Each round resulted in a six-day hospital stay every two weeks.

After her second round, Scott began feeling weaker while losing her hair. Eventually, as she “began shedding more than her dog,” she decided to have her head shaved. She was given a wig, but only wore it on rare occasions, such as her best friend’s wedding, when she was maid of honor.

At the beginning of 2016, Scott had her final round of chemotherapy. It was Jan. 26 when she left the hospital, and her latest scan did not show any live cancer cells. She reached her two-year cancer-free anniversary two months ago. Scott has continued to return to the hospital for follow-up bloodwork and CAT scans, but that has decreased from biannually to just once a year, although that trip still is mind-wrecking.

“When you go for these scans, it’s terrifying,” she said. “It’s super antagonizing because you just picture the worst-case scenario every time.”

Helping hands

Although chemotherapy was covered by her health insurance, Scott told the students there are hidden expenses that cancer patients are burdened with, including transportation, parking fees and room rentals. She wants her students to think about these costs while they raise money.

“This whole time that I was sick, I couldn’t work, so I couldn’t pay for any of that,” she said. “There’s all these little things that, when you make donations to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, this is what they help with.”

Scott encouraged students to meet with their classmates during advisory periods to brainstorm ideas. For example, sixth-graders Marissa Seigh and Caroline Hall decided to make homemade necklaces and sell them at Pink Pineapple boutique in Newport. They already raised $120.

“That’s amazing,” Scott said.

Although there is no specific target amount, Lawn principal Nate Edmunds and Scott hope each of the 16 advisories raise at least $100 a piece. The class that collects the most money will win an unconventional prize: They will be able to tape a teacher to the wall during halftime of the student-teacher basketball game scheduled for March 29. Seventh-grade English teacher Chelsea Savago has volunteered to be the victim.

Scott’s involvement with the fundraising efforts will continue beyond her personal introduction. Students can purchase ribbons, colored lime green for leukemia awareness, from her in the cafeteria during lunch for the next two weeks. Students and parents can also donate money online by visiting the Student Series website and searching Jamestown School-Lawn.

“I would love for you to come together,” she told the students. “Meet with your advisory and come up with ideas of how you can fundraise.”

The free-form nature of this year’s fundraiser is markedly different from past efforts. A spring fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has been held at the middle school annually since the turn of the century. These would typically take a “Penny War” format, in which students would donate change and the “battle” to raise the most money would be done by grade level.

For 2018, Edmunds decided to take the charitable effort in a different direction. Before the kickoff assembly, he said Scott’s story would be a “meaningful experience” for the students.

“Liv has decided to open up her story, which is very personal,” he said. “We all have had someone touched by cancer.”

Ken Duva, the superintendent of schools, was touched by Scott’s story.

“It’s very courageous of her to be able to have this discussion of her journey with cancer in front of all the students,” he said. “It just shows how brave and how strong she is.”

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