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After 23 years of teaching at Los Alamos High School, math teacher Joy Handsberry has had a chance to see a totally different side of staff and students, one of love and compassion.
Handsberry was diagnosed with ovarian cancer earlier in the school year, which was discovered during a routine doctor’s appointment and after an odd pain that happened a day earlier.
“I mentioned it to my doctor, Dr. Molly Vosburg, the next day to her great credit, Dr. Vosburg immediately ordered a CT scan and we caught the cancer at stage 2,” Handsberry said. “Since the diagnosis, it’s been quite a whirlwind of treatment with surgery followed by chemotherapy. The thing that has stood out most to me along this path is just how wonderful people are and how much they long to help.”
Thursday, LAHS students Emily Pittman, Emma Lathrop and the LAHS Key Club, with the help of the Kiwanis Club, will host a spaghetti fundraiser dinner at the Christian Church on East Road.
The event starts at 5:30 p.m. with spaghetti, meatballs, bread, salad, cookie and a drink on the menu. Donations will be accepted for Handsberry.
Pittman’s involvement was the organization of events. Pittman found the location for the dinner and also found adults and students willing to help with set up and clean up.
Planning the dinner required food donations, so Pittman said she went to various groups and organizations in Los Alamos including the Kiwanis Club to present the event.
Pittman was in Handsberry’s Advanced Placement Calculus class and both her brothers had Handsberry previously as a teacher.
“As a teacher, Ms. Handsberry is really encouraging,” Pittman said. “She teaches a hard subject but somehow she still manages to make it fun. The best part about Ms. Handsberry is that she is willing to take time out of her day to help you. As long as you are willing to put in the work to succeed, she is happy to put in an equal amount of work to allow you to become the best you can be.”
After Pittman suffered a severe concussion last year, she said Handsberry was understanding and willing to help out in any way. “I really don’t think I have ever met a more kind and generous person,” she said.
When Handsberry was diagnosed, Pittman and others wanted to do something to show her how much she means to the students at LAHS
Also, Judy Nekimken and others have organized a homemade dessert auction the same night as the dinner, with proceeds going to Handsberry.
“I can’t really express how lucky I feel to be going through this with the staff of LAHS behind me,” Handsberry said. “It gives me strength. It gives me the confidence to know I can beat this thing. And it makes me feel loved just when I need it the most.” Talking about Nekimken, she said, “It’s like having Wonder Woman on your side.”
Along with the dinner and dessert auction, the “Jump for Joy” fundraiser will begin at 7:30 a.m. Friday. Students and staff will take shifts jumping on a trampoline for 24 hours straight.
Donations are accepted for meeting this all-night challenge. Throughout the event, music and snacks will be provided to those who attend.
Pittman worked with Emma Lathrop to organize the event.
“We are working together to contact local businesses to see what they are willing to contribute to the cause,” Pittman said. “I have also presented this event at various locations to find adult chaperones and student volunteers.”
The funds will help Handsberry with the financial burden of the medical bills she has incurred through treatment.
The experience in dealing with her cancer has reminded Handsberry of an important life lesson.
“Life is short, so make the most of every single moment,” Handsberry said. “Never ever give up. Laugh in the face of such nonsense. And embrace the love you find all around you — it can see you through anything.”
Los Alamos National Bank also has an account set up called Jump for Joy Handsberry and donations are greatly appreciated at any time.
The Los Alamos Monitor’s Gina Schultz contributed to this story.