Experience Teaches

Story by Johnna Walker

Russellville native Jeanie Standridge Evans has been named Honorary Chair of the Relay for Life of Pope and Yell Counties 2010. Jeania is a second grade teacher at Center Valley Elementary in Russellville. She has been teaching at Center Valley since it opened in the 1986-87 school year. Early in her career, Jeania taught at Sequoyah Elementary and London Elementary. 

The staff at Center Valley has been involved in Relay for Life for several years. Their involvement began as a result of several teachers losing their fathers to cancer. The school was active in raising money for Relay for Life many years before Jeania was diagnosed with cancer. One of their main fund-raisers is Movie Night where for a $5 admission fee, Center Valley students can return to school on a Friday night and watch a movie.

In March 2007, Jeania was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She had been experiencing some back problems and says that she is fortunate that Dr. Dennis Berner found the cancer right away. She began chemo-therapy treatments in April 2007 and underwent eight sessions which were completed in August 2007. A CT scan showed the disease was in remission.

In October 2007, tests showed that the cancer had returned. Jeania knew that she would need a stem-cell transplant. Jeania and her family began discussing options. In December 2007, she arrived at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and met her new doctor and they discussed how to proceed with her treatments.

The stem-cell transplant procedure began for Jeania in February 2008. The procedure took two months. Jeania’s mother Jewel Simcox is semi-retired and her step-father Harry Simcox is retired, so they were able to stay with her full time in Nashville. Jeania’s husband of 28 years Jerry Evans traveled between Nashville and Russellville while continuing to work full time.

In February 2008, while running tests and scans for the upcoming transplant, doctors found that Jeania also had thyroid cancer. Since this type of cancer is slow growing, the doctors wanted to perform the stem-cell transplant first and address the thyroid cancer afterward.

Jeania remained another month in Nashville following the transplant. She was only allowed to be in the hospital or in her apartment. Jerry continued to work full time and drove to Nashville on long weekends. Jewel and Harry cared for Jeania and attempted to keep the apartment as germ free as possible. Harry would even wear a mask to do the grocery shopping to keep from catching something at the grocery store.

Jerry was in Nashville with Jeania when she received her stem-cells back. She was on the 11th floor of the medical center which is for cancer patients and has a special air filtering system. The Evans returned to Russellville on April 12, 2008. Jeania had to wear a mask for the first 100 days after she returned home.

Jeania decided to journal her journey through the disease and has filled three spiral notebooks with her thoughts and feelings during that time. Longtime friend Donna Jackson Bogan started a Caring Bridge page for Jeania where friends could check on her progress and send their messages of encouragement. Jerry would read the entries to Jeania while she was in the hospital. Donna continues to maintain the page.

Russellville native Laura Rogers Growden, who now lives in Nashville, would drop by to check on Jeania and brought dinner for the family many times. Jeania’s brother Greg Standridge and his wife Karen and their children drove to Nashville on their spring break to see her.

Part of the time the family was in Nashville, they stayed at the Hope House which is free of charge and provided by the American Cancer Society. The Hope House at Vanderbilt is arranged like a college dormitory. It is the recipient of donations from professional football team owners and country music stars.

After Jeania’s return home in April 2008, she began to run a temperature. She was taken to a hospital in Little Rock and then back to Vanderbilt where she began a six-month course of steroids. By December 2008, Jeania’s blood work had returned to normal and she was cleared for the surgery to remove the thyroid cancer. She received the good news that the tumor was very small and there was no need for chemo- therapy or radiation.

In March 2009, Jeania had a one-year check up that showed she was cancer free. She returned to teaching at Center Valley in August 2009.

Because of her illness, Jeania missed two full school years. Her classroom had two permanent substitute teachers during that time. She said the administration and staff at Center Valley have been very supportive and encouraging to her during her illness.

Jeania returned to Vanderbilt in mid March of this year for her two year check up and she continues to be in remission.

Jeania said she is “excited to be named the Honorary Chair for Relay for Life. I have been active in Relay for a while with the school, but had to think about it a little before I said yes.”

Jeania’s story is a story of strength, endurance and the power of strong beliefs and a positive attitude. It is a story that gives hope and encouragement to others. Jeania said that during this journey she has had “a great support team. I couldn’t have gotten through this without my faith, my family and my friends.”

To learn more about the Relay for Life of Pope and Yell Counties, contact Hugh Dorminy at (479) 747-4734.

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