Story by Sonja Bailes, Special to the Press-Tribune
If ever there was a face of optimism, Melissa Staton’s would be it.
Diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in November 2012, the T.L. Rodes Kindergarten teacher had plenty of down days as she underwent months of chemotherapy and radiation. Yet it was Staton who was constantly encouraging her fellow teachers and students while she was on sabbatical leave.
Kristi Beaty said, “She would always call and check on me and ask if there was anything she could do for me. She always continued thinking about her little ones and visited when she could. She always had a smile no matter how hard that day was for her.”
Jennifer Hillman stepped in to teach Staton’s class the remainder of the year.
“During her sabbatical she stayed in contact with me, offering me support and guidance as I had never taught kindergarten before,” Hillman said. “She always made sure her students knew she was thinking of them while she was gone. From ‘melted snowman’ cookies to Dr. Seuss hats, she was continually committed to her students.”
All while battling for her own life. It is a fight Staton won. She is now cancer-free, back at T.L. Rodes and loving every minute of it. Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, her colleagues thought it was only fitting she be given a Gold Star.
Staton was surprised during P.E. class with the news she won the outstanding employee award on behalf of Bossier Parish Schools. She and her circle of friends were in tears. It was already a day of firsts. Staton had not worn her wig that day, choosing to sport her newly-grown curly locks.
“I posted a picture of my hair last night and a friend said, ‘You are my hero.’ And I said, ‘No, God is the hero.'” Staton went on to say, “I don’t want any recognition. He gets all the glory. God gives his greatest battles to his strongest warriors. At first I was mad (when diagnosed) but then I read that and I got it. I will fight for my friends, I will fight for my class.”
She almost changed her mind about not wearing the wig, though, once she got to school.
“When I didn’t put that wig on this morning the first person I saw was Ms. Loretta and she said, ‘that’s the new you.’ And I thought, ‘she’s right.’ We put so much focus on the outside but God sees your heart.”
Principal Lisle Meador said Staton’s heart is made of gold.
“I know one of the hardest things for her to do was to leave her students last year and take a sabbatical. While she was at home she would tape herself reading books and send them to school so her students could still hear her voice.” Meador added, “She kept in constant contact with her parents and with the teacher that took her place. As soon as summer started, she was up here getting ready for the next school year. She is a very dedicated and loving kindergarten teacher. We are so thankful she is doing great and back at Rodes.”