Havre Daily News
BOX ELDER - When third-grade teacher Joyce Donoven was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, her students were her first concern. Donoven has since learned they and all of Box Elder School felt the same concern for her.
Fourteen dancers danced Tuesday in the Box Elder School gymnasium in honor of Donoven, to help her heal. They danced the feather, grass, shawl and slow-moving dances for Donoven and the elementary school classes.
"I think the hardest thing was when I found out I had this, and it seems unfair to my family, I wondered why I was put here," she said. "I thought it was consistency, because these kids need consistency. I found out I had cancer and I was upset. Why did God put me here then?"
Donoven fell silent for a moment, unable to speak through tears. She had three surgeries in December and has had to miss three days of school every other week to have chemotherapy.
"The question has been answered," she said. "It's not just because I'm here. They care whether I'm here or not. Out of all the things I could give these kids, I thought it was consistency, but that wasn't it."
Fellow third-grade teacher Calista Worrall can fill in where Donoven left off: Donoven's students have learned compassion, and they've shared the lesson with their teacher.
"I have a room full of kids by now" who care, Donoven said.
"It's made her kids a lot more aware of things around them," Worrall said. Worrall has taken over teaching Donoven's class at times, and said she's seen the students grow.
"There is one girl in the class with a broken arm," she said. "They go out of their way to make sure she's taken care of."
As Donoven has undergone different treatments, from surgery to chemotherapy, she has explained them to her students.
"Those kids have learned right with me," she said.
Donoven told her students about losing her hair from chemotherapy, but she also told them it wasn't the worst side effect. The worst was missing school.
"When I've been unable to come," she said, "they were very good about it. Donoven was not supposed to be at school Tuesday. She normally misses Monday and Tuesday after having chemotherapy on Friday. Dance organizer Huck Sun Child told her the dance would honor her, and so she took some pain medication and came to school.
Sun Child said he was initially going to organize the dance for the younger students to give them a sense of pride in their culture. When he learned Donoven was sick, he wanted to dedicate it to her.
"This is healing thing," he said. "That's what we dance for. We dance for the sick, the sad or the mourning."
The dancers sometimes inspired some of the 4- and 5-year-old Head Start students in the audience to start dancing as well.
For the last dance, master of ceremonies Donald Meyers invited Donoven to stand near the dancers as all 14 took to the floor and the audience rose to its feet.
"When I was diagnosed with cancer," Donoven told the audience afterward, "I felt I was very lucky to be at this school. To have a whole culture come to my aid is really very special."
Donoven had a long way to go to return to where her class was seated in the gym because of all the people who approached her to offer hugs and good wishes. When she returned to her seat, her students wanted hugs as well.
Donoven will receive chemotherapy until May 6, then she has four weeks of rest before beginning radiation therapy. But that's not what she wants to concentrate on.
The third-grade classes are in the midst of adopting out stuffed animals to raise money to give May baskets to Rocky Boy's senior citizens.
"It's a lost art," Donoven said. One her students are learning.