SMITHTON — Last May, Maria Dent learned she would be teaching fourth grade at Paxton Keeley Elementary School.
Finally, after working as a substitute teacher and an instructional aide for three years, she would become a permanent fixture in the hallways and have her own classroom.
She was ecstatic.
But her excitement was short-lived.
One week later, Dent was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer.
"I was debating — should I take the job, should I not take the job," Dent said. "I didn’t know how I was going to do the chemo and the treatments and how I was going to feel."
Four months later, Dent sits in her own classroom and prepares lesson plans. Despite the toll chemotherapy has taken on her, she remains strong, thanks to the support of friends and family.
On Sunday, colleagues at Paxton Keeley Elementary will run on her behalf in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure at Mizzou Sports Park.
They are also running for another teacher and cancer survivor.
Last year, art teacher Carol Stoddart successfully fought stage one ductal carcinoma. This year, Stoddart is one of the teachers on the Paxton Keeley team.
"I’m really proud to be going in as a survivor," Stoddart said. "I love that word, 'survivor.'"
Also on the team is Dent's husband, Keith, a runner and frequent participant in organized racing events.
"This race is personal now," Maria Dent said. "My husband got on the Internet and got my friends and family to donate all this money through Facebook."
As of Friday, the team had raised more than $1,200 for the race.
Prior to their experiences with cancer, neither Maria Dent nor Stoddart were active with Susan G. Komen, but Stoddart plans to change that.
"I really didn't pay attention to Relay for Life or Susan G. Komen or any of this, because it was just kind of far away from my life," she said. "Once it touched my life, I became a lot more aware and I want to get more involved."
Both women praised the staff at Paxton Keeley for their support and compassion.
"A lot of people here at school just stepped up and fixed meals, and they made a quilt for me," Stoddart said. "Very touching, and really really sweet. So they’re kind of like my family here."