GARDNERVILLE, Nev. - Kindergarten teacher Konnie Susich says friends pass her by in the store without so much as a flicker of recognition.
But, she said, you can't blame them.
Since she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma a year ago, Susich has lost 80 pounds and all her hair.
But she takes it in good-natured stride.
"Every time I get a little fuzz back, I get some more high-powered chemo and it's gone again," she laughed.
A pop in her shoulder as she reached for a paper at Zephyr Cove Elementary School on Jan. 5, 2009, launched Susich on a journey she said made her re-evaluate the facts of life.
"I've learned patience, to be thankful for what I have, that life is very important, all that kind of stuff. I knew it before, but this kind of intensified it," Susich said Thursday in an interview from her home in Stateline where she is awaiting further treatment.
She was diagnosed in March 2009 with multiple myeloma, stage 3A, and elected to undergo treatment at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City.
"I also learned that anything can happen to anybody at any time. I learned that if the guy driving down the road ahead of you is going a little slow, so what? It's not that big a deal," she said.
Susich, 60, is eager to return to her kindergarten classroom where she has taught Douglas County's 5-year-olds for 27 years. She's been at Zephyr Cove for 21 years and taught at Gardnerville Elementary School for six years. She also teaches early childhood special education.
She was honored in 2001 as Douglas County teacher of the year.
Susich hopes to return to the classroom April 8, after her latest round of chemotherapy scheduled March 8.
"I keep getting letters and e-mails 'when are you coming back? We miss you,'" she said. "They've just been wonderful and I miss them so much, too."
She hopes to make an appearance Sunday at Thai One On at Stateline. Meals will be served from 5-9 p.m. by Susich's former students. The owners have had four children in her kindergarten classes.
The fundraiser was organized by family friends.
"Konnie has taught the children of Douglas County for nearly 30 years," said Lawrence Howell. "I've yet to meet someone who doesn't absolutely love her or talk about the value she's added to their lives and their children's lives. We're doing whatever we can to help her. We're giving back to someone who has given so much to us."
Twenty percent of all sales will be donated to Susich's medical costs.
"I'm very touched by all this," Susich said. "I never expected that in a million years."
With a lot of time on her hands in Salt Lake City, Susich found opportunities to teach other patients how to make turbans for their heads and just cope.
"I'm a pretty lucky person. I'm in remission right now and, hopefully, I will stay that way. It's lucky for me I had the thing on my shoulder. If it hadn't manifested itself when it did, it might have been too late," she said.
Susich has chosen to treat her cancer with large doses of humor which comes as no surprise to her students and their families.
"One doctor told me they might have to replace my clavicle with one from a cadaver, and I said I wanted to meet the cadaver first, that it had to be someone who was friendly," she said. "The doctor looked at me curiously and asked me why. I told him I always wanted to be known as someone who didn't have a mean bone in her body."
-- Konnie Susich Fundraiser, 5-9 p.m. Feb. 28, Thai One On, 292 Kingsbury Grade No. 33, Stateline, 586-8424.
-- Donations can be dropped of at any Wells Fargo Bank branch, account No. 2553092657, checks made out to Choice Corp./for the benefit of Konnie Susich.
ON THE WEB
Konnie's Korner Caring Bridge Web Site