Determined and not alone in cancer fight

Reida Forsman, choir teacher at Eveleth-Gilbert, is pictured with her daughters.

EVELETH — Reida Forsman is a vocal music instructor in the Eveleth-Gilbert Schools, and a co-worker says she has "a talent for connecting with the kids and helping them reach their full potential" as she teaches music to grades K-4 and has charge of the junior high and senior high choirs.

Now her students are giving back to Forsman as she undergoes treatments for breast cancer. "In spite of her diagnosis and need to miss school often for treatments, the kids still know she is there for them and has done an awesome job in spite of the cancer," said Roxanne Kelson, Franklin Elementary media center staff member, in an email.

And Reida Forsman said in an email, "All I knew was I am determined to beat this. And, I quickly learned: I wasn't alone."

A benefit for Forsman will be held Friday, May 18, in the Eveleth-Gilbert High School auditorium and will feature a concert by music students from throughout the Range. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the concert starts at 7 p.m.

The concert will include the following: Eveleth-Gilbert High School Choir, as well as eighth grade choir members; a soloist, Becca Quirk, from Mountain Iron-Buhl, Ely Memorial Concert Choir, members of the Virginia-Eveleth-Gilbert orchestras and members of the Mesabi Chamber Ensemble and a Touch of Class jazz group. There will be many auction/raffle items. "Our local businesses have been very generous," said Kelson. "The staff and faculty at our school have also been very generous in donating items and treats that will be served at the benefit." A Facebook event page has pictures of auction items and is listed under Choir Care Fest hosted by Eveleth-Gilbert Senior High. Donations by check to Reida Forsman can be sent to Roxanne Kelson, 534 Jackson St., Eveleth MN 55734 or to Kelson at the school.

Kelson said of Forsman, "She is a superb choir/music teacher. In spite of her diagnosis and need to miss school often for treatments, the kids still know she is there for them and has done an awesome job in spite of the cancer. This while raising two delightful daughters as a single parent. In spite of this challenging schedule on two campuses, she still has time to support her friends by lending and ear when we need one. That is why we are organizing this benefit, so she knows how much she is appreciated and loved in our community."

As she undergoes treatments for cancer, Forsman offered this advice: "Moms are busy; I get it. I am a busy, single mom who works full time. Taking time for myself can be a challenge and I am so glad I took the time to get a mammogram. To every woman ... I cannot stress enough: Get a mammogram. If they say you have dense tissue, ask more questions. It might be OK. If it isn't ... keep fighting!"

In January Forsman received the news — she had Stage III breast cancer (two kinds: ductal carcinoma in situ and invasive ductal carcinoma). In an email Forsman said, "The average age of this type of breast cancer is 60-plus years old, so it was devastating to learn that I really shouldn't be hearing these words for another 20 years or so, especially being a single working mom of two small children. The cancer had moved into my lymph nodes, so treatment began swiftly: I am facing a year's worth of treatment including aggressive chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and more chemotherapy. Right now, I am heading into chemo treatment No. 6 .

"The scariest part for me was thinking about my daughters: They are young, ages 10 and 4. They need their mom; NO ONE else is going to raise them! My next thought was my job — though an educator for nearly 20 years, I am only in year four at Eveleth-Gilbert Public Schools, and successfully building a growing vocal music program. At that time, choir students were gearing up for a busy spring: preparation and performances at solo ensemble and large group contests, two more concerts, singing at the annual Memorial Program at EGHS, and singing at graduation. Then there was the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre field trip and the elementary Spring Sing for grades 3 and 4, both activities scheduled for May."

Forsman said she was "blinded by the cancer diagnosis, the uncertainty of what was ahead of me, dumbfounded as to how I was going to manage work with such little accrued sick leave and single-handedly care for my two young daughters. I was scared and feeling incredibly cheated."

But Forsman said she has "been rendered speechless by the support the Eveleth-Gilbert school district has shown me. Right off the bat, with the help of guidance counselor Dave Janssen, the Friends of Rachel Club at the E-G junior high spearheaded several on-campus fundraising activities, including a hat day and a Coins for Cancer classroom competition. The winning class was Miss McKay's School Readiness class, earning a pizza party for their efforts, which a parent offered voluntarily as the prize."

Forsman called the Eveleth-Gilbert faculty and staff "incredible... making sure the choir program remained strong in my absences. Fellow music department teachers Kevin Szumal, LaDonna Muster, Sheila Wilcox and I have great teamwork: they didn't think twice about stepping up and helping every time chemo knocked me down. Then, there's all the substitutes who stepped in; Esther Kallberg, Marian Azabbi and teachers Elisa Boe, Rebekah Deedrick, Mr. Ufford, Brianne Pellinen, the list goes on. Whether it was a planned absence because of scheduled medical appointments/treatments or a quick back-up because I was suffering side effects while on the job, these people helped keep the K-4 elementary music and the secondary choir program going in my absence. Thanks to these pro-music individuals, students experienced all but one performance this spring. Not only do the E-G faculty and staff look out for the choir program, they keep me going as well." Forsman said she is "fortunate to work in a district where the faculty and staff care" and that since her diagnosis colleagues have provided food and childcare and encouragement.

"And, who could forget my students?" she said. "Wow! Their support has been terrific, too. Their patience and flexibility with substitutes is greatly appreciated. Some days, they knew I was going to be gone and other days, they had no idea who would greet them at the classroom door. Through it all, the classes and choirs stuck together, worked on the skills they were to master, and it showed; recent concerts reflected just how hard the choirs worked together to succeed together. A special thank you to the eighth grade choir at the Gilbert campus — your surprise performance in my honor touched my family and me. And yes, I plan to keep fighting.

Forsman also thanked the Eveleth-Gilbert Choir Boosters and "anyone and everyone in the community who has pitched in. These kinds of efforts don't happen without the help of many, many people. I am so grateful to be a part of such a generous community."

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