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Atascocita High School teacher with cancer has her supportive Tribe

November 22, 2018

It was the support of others that gave her wings.

Sadness and its kin came to Dianne Otis in August when she discovered that she has an incurable kind of cancer.

But the Atascocita High School career and technology education teacher filled the void when family members, friends and colleagues showed up to birth Deann’s Tribe. The tribe has raised more than $7,000 to help Otis cover medical expenses with a goal of reaching $10,000 by the end of the school year.

“(I’m) grateful and blessed to have all of it,” Otis said of the support group and fundraising campaign.

She was wearing a navy blue T-shirt with “Deann’s Tribe” on the front and a verdant butterfly conceived from motivational words on the back.

“There’s a very large community that cares about her, not just the school,” said secretary Connie Parker. Another secretary, Krista Johnson, nodded. Parker and Johnson were wearing the same shirt as Otis.

Life of the tribe

Per the National Cancer Institute, what Otis has — follicular lymphoma — is the most common type of slow-growing and slow-spreading non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It was a routine mammogram that made Otis aware of a swollen underarm lymph node.

Otis said her cancer is at stage-four because it is in her bone marrow and spleen.

“It’s like diabetes,” she said. “It’s something I’m going to have to live with.”

After this discovery, Otis’ husband, David, formed a closed Facebook group to provide updates on Deann’s battle with her “Gremlins,” namely how many treatments are left and how to cover the fees for those.There are currently 856 tribe members.

Parker and Johnson stepped in to channel support from Otis’ workplace. They settled upon a fundraising campaign that will allow donors to wear blue jeans beyond Fridays, otherwise known as the school’s spirit day, and receive a certificate.

“They were on board with it,” Parker said of the school’s leaders. “They also enhanced it by allowing us to do it for the entire [2018-2019] school year rather than just one week.”

On Nov. 7, Will Falker, the school’s associate principal, said at BizCom that Deann’s Tribe has raised $7,000. Johnson and Parker said the goal is to collect $3,000 more at the end of the school year.

Members of the tribe also assist Otis, and her family, in different ways. She said they’d set up a “meal train” for her, wash her clothes, pick up her son from school, send her notes as examples.

“Just a hug helps,” she added.

There is also a dedicated friend who spares Otis from having to search for a substitute teacher, Parker said.

Help from students

Every three weeks, Otis receives five different medications as part of the R-CHOP treatment regimen. She said a couple of days later she will experience fatigue, blurry vision, sores and others.

There’s the hair loss, too, but Otis, Parker and Johnson said that means the treatment is working.

“And one of [the students] got really upset — because I had my hair when I told him,” Otis said. “We had to go out in the hall, I had to calm him down, but we laugh about it now.”

Otis was surprised at how many students — mainly boys, Parker and Johnson noted — came to her with stories about a family member who has cancer or words of reassurance.

“They’re wonderful, they’re supportive—” Otis said, holding back tears. “I wore a wig one day and they were laughing. They’re great. They leave me notes. They’re wonderful.”

Otis gave a long pause recalling the best note she’d received, but then she walked to the board and grabbed the answer: A piece of paper with a hand-drawn bee flying past the phrase “You’re BEEutiful.”

She pointed to the many creases around the drawing, suggesting that the contents were previously hidden in some artful folding.

‘20 more years!’

For the weeklong Thanksgiving holiday, Otis said she will be out among nature with her family, which is a great environment prior to her last, or fifth, treatment on Dec. 21.

“Two more PET scans, maybe stem cell replacement, maybe radiation,” she said of what might come after. That said, everything will go through her oncologist first.

Since the treatments are expensive, Otis, Parker and Johnson were glad to have received so much support. The former is particularly glad she hasn’t had to drain the college fund of her son, Nolan, a freshman in Atascocita High School.

After the holidays, Deann’s Tribe will broadcast a major fundraising call. The trio hopes that the $10,000 goal will be met.

“Hopefully [the cancer] will be put into remission and [I will] live 20 more years!” Otis said, beaming.

nguyen.le@chron.com

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