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Another American Girl story: Local teacher celebrates one year cancer-free

By Staff | Jun 5, 2018

Members of Samantha Spitzer's American Girl class sit in front of a teepee. Back row, from left: Samantha Spitzer, Ella Mullins, Sarah Garretson, Caroline Costello, Alison Mark, Chloe Snyder, Nora Lewis Greta Gans, Renee Snyder and Jean Garretson. Middle row, from left: Scarlett Gans, Charity Brown, Olivia Mullins. Front row, from left: Eva Crayne, Cate Metzgar, Violet Colon and Jenna Spitzer.

The Jefferson County Christian Homeschool Co-op’s American Girl Class has learned a thing or two about courage during its past two years with teacher Samantha Spitzer.

The class, which celebrated the school year’s ending last week with a powwow inspired by American Girl character Kayaatonmy, has not only read about courage in the American Girl books, but has also seen courage acted out in real life.

“The original American Girl books didn’t mince things. People died, people lived. For Felicity, it was her grandfather, and for Josefina, her mother died,” Spitzer, a mother of three girls ages 9, 12 and 17, said.

This fall, the class studied the life and culture of Josefina. Spitzer said the death of Josefina’s mother struck a deep chord with her personally.

Spitzer, who started the class in the 2016 to 2017 school year, had to hand the class over that November to assistant teachers Kristi Horner and Terry Knoll after she was diagnosed with stage 3 high grade sarcoma.

“I thought I had pulled a muscle in my thigh, and in reality, I basically had, because the tumor was stretching my muscle out, and it grew very large–it was an over seven pound mass,” Spitzer said.

“It was a really bad cancer, very rare. I had a tumor in my thigh that I named Ethel, even before we knew it was cancer,” Spitzer said, adding that Ethel was surgically removed in March 2017. “Johns Hopkins became my second home for six months last year.”

Spitzer recalled returning to the hospital for scans after chemo with her husband, Frank.

“I was really nervous, because it had been almost two months after I had been to the hospital,” Spitzer said. “Frank and I had pulled up beside the Weinberg Center, and I remember saying, ‘I hate this place,’ and Frank said, ‘I love this place.'”

Now, Spitzer says she no longer hates the hospital.

“It was an amazing place to be,” she said. “Thank God (that) Johns Hopkins was in my backyard.”

On May 19, Spitzer, her husband and their three daughters will celebrate Spitzer’s one-year anniversary of being cancer-free. But being cancer free doesn’t mean life has gone back to normal for Spitzer.

“I think my biggest struggle is trying to take better care of myself and slowing down. I’m wanting to just make up for the lost time from last year. I have to catch myself and say, ‘I need to take it easy and lay down and put my foot up,'” Spitzer said. “I still have some trouble with my leg. It has a blood clot, but if you saw me walking, you wouldn’t know.”

Spitzer said teaching the class this year has been her way of thanking her friends in the co-op for their support.

“It was absolutely incredible what a blessing it was, to know the class was being taken care of last year, because I was always in Johns Hopkins,” Spitzer said. She said the class will study Molly’s and Kit’s lives during World War I and II for the 2018 to 2019 school year.

The Christian co-op meets Tuesdays at Covenant Church. For more information, visit jcchwv.org/.