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Posted: May 22, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Gray ribbons for Team Traci

South Salem Elementary honors teacher who beat brain tumor

submitted photo /The Covington News/

The staff of South Salem Elementary dressed in gray to honor their fellow teacher.

When Traci Mask dropped a weight at the gym because her hand went numb, she thought back to all the scattered symptoms she had been experiencing. Headaches, numbness in her right arm, hand and side of her face, trouble walking, tiredness, memory problems and even passing out while driving one day seemed unrelated and spread out to her before, but now she decided to see a doctor.

Two previous attempts at getting an MRI were denied by her insurance company because of lack of symptoms.
This time they found something.

The cause of the South Salem Elementary School kindergarten parapro’s headaches and numbness was a softball-sized tumor that had been growing in her head for years.

Doctors recommended immediate surgery to remove the tumor. She was diagnosed with a meningioma tumor in November 2013, which is a slow-growing benign tumor most often found in the brain which can become cancerous. Mask went into a five-hour surgery in December at St. Mary’s Health Care System in Athens.

She told her doctor she has two children and a husband. She had to make it through this.

“Overwhelmed with kindness”

A month later, the 42-year-old was back at work, and the tumor has nowhere to be seen since.

What could be seen on Wednesday was a school of gray and smiling faces when the South Salem Elementary staff and students dressed out in honor of Mask during May’s National Brain Tumor Awareness Month.

“We all wanted to honor her,” said Terran Newman, an assistant principal at the school. “She came back in an extraordinarily short amount of time.”

Newman said all of the students love Mask. She taught PE for three years before moving to kindergarten for the past three. She is on morning car rider duty, which means she stands on the curb to greet students and encourage them as they get to school, getting to know more than just her class.

“I think she is one of the bravest people I’ve ever met,” Newman said. “She’s constantly encouraging people around her and people with her illness who have had the same sort of thing happen.

“She came right back, and she wouldn’t let us have any sort of easy way out for her.”

The staff got together to spread the word about the school gray-out, surprising her in the gym Wednesday morning.

“Of course, I balled like a baby,” Mask said.

She still has limited use of her right hand, which is her writing hand. However, she said when she first woke up she could not move her hand at all.

“I’m completely overwhelmed with the kindness people would have to take the time out to do that,” she said of her co-workers and students. “Everybody knows about pink (for breast cancer), but not everyone knows about this.”

Overcoming this obstacle had a lot to do with keeping a positive attitude, Mask said.

“I don’t slow down much to think about it. I just kept pushing forward and kept my faith.”

“Our hero”

Mask’s family and community has been a vital support to her recovery process, too.

“She’s just had so much support from the whole community, from people on Facebook to people we don’t know,” said Mask’s mother, Cathy Larsen. “People were bringing her home-cooked meals to the house.”

Mask said she has received gift cards, food and fundraising proceeds from people all over school and town. Her 11-year-old daughter, Lauren, her 17-year-old son, Ryan, and her husband, Shane, have all remained steady at her side. Gray ribbons can be seen on the back of cars in the South Salem Elementary parking lot that say “Team Traci.”

She has been keeping a blog to talk about her process and spread awareness of the dangers of brain tumors that go untreated. Her blog can be found at thefaceofabraintumor.blogspot.com.

“We call her our hero,” Newman said.

 

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