GEMS teacher's aide battling cancer

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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Lisa Miller says she misses her “little monsters” at Glen Edwards Middle School. Miller, 47, is a teacher’s aide at the school, where she worked in Lori Reitman’s classroom until being diagnosed with breast cancer in December. The term “little monsters” is affectionately used by Miller, since her students “are just a wonderful part of my life.” “I miss my job so much. I love my kids and the people I work with,” Miller said. “On my good days, I’m going to try and go visit. It’s hard to stay away.” Miller is currently undergoing chemotherapy, which she will receive every two weeks for six months. “They (doctors) are hoping they can shrink it small enough to take it (the cancer) out and not have to remove my breasts,” Miller said. The chemotherapy suppresses Miller’s immune system, which is why she hasn’t been able to visit students and teachers. Miller has been Reitman’s teacher’s aide for the past nine years and the two have become friends over the years, according to Reitman. Reitman teaches seventh- and eighth-grade math and history, as well as eighth-grade leadership and community service. “I teach a little bit of everything and she (Miller) helps me with math. She does yard duty,” Reitman said. “She grades papers, she works with the kids one-on-one and, outside at lunchtime, she builds relationships with the kids. She does a little bit of everything and she has a huge heart.” Reitman said she was there when Miller received word that she had cancer. “I was teaching a lesson and we were waiting for the call,” Reitman said. “She walked outside, and when she walked back in, she said ‘I have it.’” Reitman said cancer is “something you never think is going to happen.” “I shared it with the kids. The kids are very aware of it and started making cards,” Reitman said. “Their first question asked is how she is and is she going to be OK.” Reitman said many of the students “miss her.” “I miss her in my class and as a friend. At times, I feel like I wish it was me and not her,” Reitman said. “You look at somebody and want to take that pain and fear away. I feel very helpless and have to be a strong emotional support and encourage her to be positive.” Miller is described by Reitman as “caring, honest, funny and sensitive.” Although the district would provide a substitute aide for her classroom, Reitman said, “I don’t want her replaced.” “I’m doing OK and I’ll just wait for her return,” Reitman said. “She will return. She has to.” Julianna Anderson, 13, is a seventh-grader at the middle school and “can’t wait to see (Miller) back.” “She’s awesome, she’s wonderful and I miss her,” Julianna said. “She’s my buddy.” Miller was described by Julia Cummings, 12, as “always being there for people.” “She makes people like the school and feel welcome,” Julia said. Vanesa Francisco, 12, described Miller as “having a pure heart.” “She can be really nice but also strict and makes sure everyone is doing the right thing,” Vanesa said. “I miss her so much.” Miller’s cancer diagnosis had an impact on Vanesa. “I didn’t want to cry at school but it hurt me,” Vanesa said. “It didn’t feel right to know one of our teachers has cancer. All I want to know is if she’ll make it through.” Tom Miller, Lisa Miller’s husband, said he is “coping with” his wife’s diagnosis “the best that I can.” “Day to day, it’s very emotional. It’s very hard and it’s a change in my life and in our home,” Tom Miller said. “I’m doing the best that I can and trying to get through every day and help her out as much as I can. My No. One hope for her is to get better.” Tom Miller said his wife is “a very strong person” who misses her students and school. “She loves those kids, loves that school and the teachers have been great,” Tom Miller said. “She just gives her whole heart every day.”