Family, campus rally around Marble Falls teacher battling breast cancer

CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF

MARBLE FALLS — At 45 years old, Marble Falls Middle School math teacher Patty McAlpin never anticipated a breast cancer diagnosis.

“It wasn’t on my radar,” she said. ” I didn’t think it was going to be something that happened to me.”

But what came next from every corner of the community strengthened her resolve to fight back against the disease.

“It’s been inspirational. … My families, my friends, my church,” she said. “I had strangers, women in town I’ve never met, volunteering for me to call them.”

McAlpin took very few days off and continued to teach seventh and eighth grades at the middle school as she underwent aggressive treatment.

From her initial diagnosis in February to October, she endured surgery, rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments in an Austin-area facility.

Those around McAlpin celebrated her courage.

Eighth-grade students at Marble Falls Middle School hold up a run-through banner for math teacher Patty McAlpin as she makes her way to her final radiation treatment to help her overcome breast cancer. Courtesy photo
Eighth-grade students at Marble Falls Middle School hold up a run-through banner for math teacher Patty McAlpin as she makes her way to her final radiation treatment to help her overcome breast cancer. Courtesy photo

“The kids were amazing, so supportive from day one. I remember standing in the hallway, having hall duty, looking to my right and seeing a wave of pink,” she said of the color that denotes support for breast cancer awareness, research and recovery. “They made me cards. I saw support the entire time.”

McAlpin’s husband, J. Don McAlpin, a banker, and her high school-aged daughters, Kate and Libby, provided a foundation of support at home.

“They’ve been wonderful,” McAlpin said. “It’s not easy having a mom and wife who is sick.”

The community followed McAlpin’s progress on the Caring Bridge website (an online venue for health updates), through emails she sent to co-workers and during classroom discussions.

As a result, adults and students alike began demonstrating their support by using McAlpin’s own words as inspiration.

During one discussion, she relayed a “tongue-in-cheek” scenario with one of her fellow radiation treatment patients regarding her plans for her last day of treatment.

“I joked with him and said, ‘I’m renting a cheer squad to make a tunnel for me to run through and give me high fives,'” she said.

On Dec. 10, the last day of her treatment, middle school students and educators designed a run-through banner and gathered in front of the school as McAlpin made her way to her car.

“I left at 3 p.m. that day. All the eighth-grade athletes, boys and girls, are on the stairway leading to my car. They had that banner, clapping for me, doing high-fives, celebrating that last time I had to do radiation,” she said. “‘Rally against breast cancer’ is what (the banner) said. I broke through.”

Friends and family joined the final-day rally as well but, this time, from the treatment facility.

McAlpin had sent notes asking everyone to listen to her “celebratory song” titled “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons.

“Friends and family surprised me at the doctor’s office with Silly String, balloons, playing my song, clapping for me,” she said. “Then, I go to school the next day, and my room is decorated. There are pink streamers. … It was overwhelming. Nothing makes a girl feel loved like a little bit of cancer.”

As she recovers, McAlpin welcomes the prayers for recovery and remission.

“Unfortunately, it takes something like an illness, a diagnosis or a death for people to say I care about you,” she said. “We really shouldn’t wait until something bad happens to be good to one another.”

connie@thepicayune.com