Breast cancer awareness ribbon illustration. A student runs a pink out to spread awareness about breast cancer and to support a teacher diagnosed with it. Illustration by Haley Shumaker.
Story by Aliyah Pratomo
Back in 2018, Khloe Smith’s (9) grandfather passed away due to lung cancer. After his death, she wanted to start a fundraiser with all the money going towards finding a cure for lung cancer, but she was too young and didn’t know how to start.
But after French teacher Marcy Sheldon was diagnosed with breast cancer late last year, Smith decided to do something to show Sheldon how important she is to her. Smith decided to run a pink out campaign, gathering support photos, arts and videos from students and staff in pink clothes and accessories to be compiled in a video collage, to encourage Sheldon in the midst of challenging times.
“It’s really hard to find out that someone you really truly care about and like, love, has that kind of disease that could really hurt them in the end,” Smith said. “It’s really hard to find out about that and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was feeling those types of feelings.”
At first, Smith’s idea was just to wear pink, dye her hair pink and paint her nails. Then, in early January, she partnered up with her Pre-AP English I teacher, Cody Harrell—a friend, coworker and roommate of Sheldon.
Harrell suggested that Smith create a video collage featuring East Lansing staff and students. He wanted to show Sheldon the many people who care and supported her without actually being together.
“In a way, [Sheldon] could look back on that and see just how much people love her and care about her,” Harrell said. “[The video] is a good way for us to put everything together all in one product and package for her.”
From there, Smith decided to talk to social worker Heather Findley about the idea. Findley recommended that she should get administration approval. After three weeks of back and forth with administration, Smith’s idea was approved by Associate Principal Matthew Morales. Once it was approved, Smith proceeded to ask Harrell to spread the announcement about photo, art and video submission to staff and students.
“I thought that maybe by doing this, then everybody could show their support to Madame [Sheldon] and feel like they were actually doing something to help,” Smith said. “And I know that it really helped me feel like I was doing something that was actually helping and something worthwhile, you know.”
Photo of Smith. She is the person behind the virtual pink out video collage. Photo courtesy of Khloe Smith
Around 40 students and staff submitted videos of themselves supporting Sheldon in their pink out gear.
“It’s really hard to explain the amount of joy that like everybody supporting her and I’ve gotten students who didn’t even have her as a teacher who are still supporting her,” Smith said. “It’s just amazing to see the amount of community that the East Lansing Family has and it’s really awesome.”
Talaiah Reese (11) is one of the students who submitted a support video, even though she didn’t have Sheldon as her teacher.
“It is clear to me now more than ever that now is the time that we must stick close to each [other] and be by people’s side no matter what,” Reese said. “Although I didn’t know Madame Sheldon, I wanted to put myself in her shoes and I knew that if I knew the person or not it still would have been nice to receive a message or shout-out just knowing that they cared about what I was going through.”
Photo of Reese. She is one of the students who submitted a video, who didn’t have Sheldon as her teacher. Photo courtesy of Talaiah Reese.
Smith described how Sheldon radiated energy and made her feel welcome to the East Lansing Family on her first day as a freshman in an online setting. As a result, Sheldon being diagnosed with cancer impacted her.
“[Madame Sheldon] is always there for everybody, no matter what the circumstances,” Smith said. “And I think that is really important as a teacher and she likes to give her undivided attention to all her students, which is really awesome.”
Smith hoped that the pink out video collage that she made will put a smile on Sheldon’s face.
“I just want to show her that she is not alone and that everybody in the East Lansing Family is here to support her no matter what,” Smith said. “And we always will be.”
Pink out video collage including Sheldon’s reaction. Smith presented the video collage that she made to Sheldon during her sixth hour French II class on Feb. 22. Pink out video collage courtesy of Khloe Smith. Reaction video taken from class recording courtesy of Marcy Sheldon.
Sheldon felt honored to see her colleagues and students—including those who have been in her classes and students who have not— taking their time to make videos, take photos and create art to support her.
“It was coming off of a really rough week for me, so it was very encouraging,” Sheldon said. “I felt very encouraged, I felt very supported [and] I felt very loved.”
Sheldon received an outpouring amount of support and help from both students and parents, even outside the pink out video.
“The amount of support that the community of East Lansing is enthusiastic to provide me,” Sheldon said. “I feel very humbled.”
Photo of Sheldon. She found the video collage that was made for her uplifting. Photo courtesy of Marcy Sheldon.
A lot of young women looked up to Sheldon as a role model. She wanted people—especially her students— to understand that “when you are strong, it doesn’t necessarily mean you do everything by yourself.”
“I want my students to also observe that part of being strong is relying on the people around you [and] allowing people to help you when you need it because not only can I not do this by myself, but it’s worse for me to do it myself,” Sheldon said. “I know that the people that are offering to help me and the people who are showing up to support me, that brings them a sense of meaning and it reinforces the relationships that we have with each other.”
Sheldon is grateful for all the people who have been supporting her throughout this challenge that she will be fighting for a long time. She wanted these people to know how whole they made her life feel.
“It really makes me realize how big my family truly is and it’s a lot for a person to put their whole heart and soul to their job and do their career,” Sheldon said. “When I come up against this challenge knowing that it's not just time I've spent on a job, but that the time I've spent developing the relationships with my students, with the community and with my colleagues, is it's there for me. Like I haven't been putting effort into an empty vessel, like I'm able to rely on the relationships that I've been building in ways that I need them and I'm going to need them.”