Archive for Thursday, February 17, 2005

Welcome back, Ruby

After defeating cancer, long-time volunteer returns to school

February 17, 2005

It's easy to notice the grandmotherly appearance and the kind, gentle demeanor of longtime Basehor resident Ruby Wiley. It's even easier to note the nurturing approach she takes when helping tutor Basehor Elementary School reading students.

But, as they say, appearances can be deceiving and in this case Wiley's hide the simple fact that beneath it all, she's tough as nails and a true champion. After all, it's the traits of a winner -- tenacity, strong will and toughness -- that Wiley displayed in the most crucial of contests.

A knock-down, drag-out, 12-month bout with cancer.

Guess who won?

Using a powerful mixture of family and friends, medicine and prayer, Wiley overcame the disease. She underwent her last chemotherapy treatment in December 2003 and doctors haven't found a lick of the disease since then.

"It was no fun," Wiley said. "It takes a while to get over that. It was very scary . . . I didn't know if I would make it. I certainly hoped I would."

Wiley, who in March will celebrate her 80th birthday, is the longest-tenured volunteer in the Basehor-Linwood School District. She is one of eight volunteers at the elementary school who help students read and comprehend books.

After a one-year hiatus to treat, defeat and recover from ovarian cancer, Wiley began her 11th year of volunteering Monday when she made a triumphant return to the elementary school. Fitting for a champion, a celebration awaited Wiley Monday morning, as did a banner hanging from the ceiling signed by elementary school students.

Though grateful for their efforts, Wiley sheepishly said people made too much of her return Monday. "When I walked in the door, I saw the big sign and thought 'Oh, my gracious," she said. "I certainly didn't expect anything as nice as this. I was just coming to work. I was just coming back."

Not everyone considered Wiley's return as routine an event as she did.

"There are relationships between (volunteers) and the students," said Basehor Elementary School principal Terri Holmes. "They connect with the kids. For some kids, it's going to be like a lost friend coming back."

It was a warm summer's day in May 2003, a time that seems like eons ago, when Wiley first noticed her impending health problem. She was mowing grass when her riding lawnmower hit a bump. Intuition told Wiley something was wrong and a trip to the doctor's office confirmed her suspicions.

"I could feel something happen," Wiley said. "I had no idea what it was, but I knew something had happened, something was wrong."

An X-ray revealed a grapefruit-sized tumor. Soon after, Wiley began aggressive medical treatments to combat the disease. Outside the hospital, she relied on the support of her four daughters and the prayers of friends from church.

Doctors say a positive attitude is almost as important as medicine when dealing with a disease as debilitating as cancer. Wiley concurs and credits her blend of therapy outside the hospital as a vital resource in beating back the disease.

"I think it is," she said. "It really did help, it helped a lot." She added, "You just have to hope and pray it doesn't come back."

Every three months, she gets a check-up to confirm the disease is in remission and so far, so good, she said.

Wiley first began volunteering in 1993, a year after her husband, Harold, died. After "sitting at home for a year" she signed up as a school volunteer. Working with the students has helped Wiley cope, she said.

"It just seemed like the thing for me to do," said Wiley, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. "It gives me something else to think about. I just really thoroughly enjoy it. I like to be around children. I've always been around children."

On this day, she's working with young Alex Bishop, a second-grader. Alex is reading a book and Wiley, a patient and attentive sort, is helping him pronounce the more complicated words. Every so often, they'll take time away from the book, find something humorous and share a laugh.

It's one of many lighthearted moments they both can count on in the future. Wiley said she doesn't now how long she'll remain as a volunteer. She mentions traveling and spending even more time with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as possibilities for the future.

At this moment the question is irrelevant and there's at least two good reasons for Alex and Wiley to smile.

Wiley has returned to school, and the cancer that kept her away, hasn't.

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