• Shannon Humphrey: Teacher, mom, cancer survivor

  • Shannon Humphrey has always known that working with children was something she wanted to do. But it was not only teaching that the longtime Independence resident came late to, it was also motherhood – after fostering and later adopting three children in her late 30s.

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  • Shannon Humphrey has always known that working with children was something she wanted to do. But it was not only teaching that the longtime Independence resident came late to, it was also motherhood – after fostering and later adopting three children in her late 30s.
    “I have always done things like coaching kids or working with children’s programs. I always had a love for things like that,” said the teacher at Procter Elementary School in Independence. “My aunt Kathy was a teacher at Pembroke (Hill), which had a big influence on me. I adored her and still do, so anything she had an interest in, I had an ivnterest in. I just knew that one day, I wanted to be a teacher.”
    And although Humphrey describes her life as being “full of blessings,” she is now in a constant battle after being diagnosed with cancer just last year.
    A Long Road to Teaching
    Humphrey grew up in Independence and attended Procter beginning in the second grade. She graduated from William Chrisman in 1983 and went on to study child and family development at the University of Missouri in Columbia. She said after that, she wanted to move to California for graduate school. After living in California for two years, however, she began to feel homesick and decided to return to Missouri.
    After moving through different career fields, including going to school for electrical mechanics, she enrolled at the University of Central Missouri to study elementary education. She then returned to MU and was part of the MU Fellowship Program. She has been at Procter since 2001.
    “It has been so wonderful to be back here. So much has changed physically that the building is not even recognizable. But there is still so much that is the same,” Humphrey said. “I love the fact that this school is still so community-oriented. I think that it is important to have that tight connection with families, because it helps the children excel.”
    Procter Principal Debbie Marlowe said Humphrey will do whatever it takes to ensure the learning success of her students. She said what makes her such a great teacher is that she focuses on building strong relationships with both her students and families.
    “She will work into the night to prepare lessons that help her students increase their skills. Shannon will research strategies and implement techniques that helps all her students be successful learners,” Marlowe said. “She uses evidence of her learners’ performance to design learning for each student. Shannon is a team player ... and colleagues appreciate her willingness to be a resource to them and to all Procter learners.”
    Humphrey said she loves teaching the second grade because the students are old enough to take care of their personal needs, but are also still excited about coming to school and learning. She said one of the things she loves most is that at least 50 times a day, she hears the words, “I love you Ms. Humphrey.”
    Page 2 of 5 - “They can’t wait to come in the classroom. They are so young and sweet and have a real eagerness to learn,” she said. “They are so easy to get motivated. You do not have to do much to spark their interest in learning.”
    Humphrey said she tries to make the students in her classroom feel comfortable and safe so they can have the best environment to be successful learners.
    “Not everyone comes in having the best day or the best situation at home,” she said. “Part of my job is to help them move through that so they feel totally safe and comfortable. I think that is a huge thing for children.”
    Becoming a Family of Four
    The first couple of years teaching at Procter were difficult for Humphrey. She said she would go home almost every night crying because of the needs of some of her students.
    “Two years in a row, I was asked by parents to adopt their children. It made me so sad to know that this was not something they wanted, but because of the place they were in, they did not have many options,” she said. “I was buying clothes, shoes, toys, whatever I could do to make a difference, but I still felt like it wasn’t enough.”
    Humphrey decided after those two years that she wanted to explore becoming a foster parent and maybe later, adoption. So she began to take both the foster and adoption classes. About seven years ago, she was asked to become a foster parent to three siblings. Jeremy was the first, who was then only 4. Soon after came Claire, who was 20 months and then Carly, who was only one month old. She said at first, she was overwhelmed having three small children, but after a few adjustments, Humphrey said things started to mesh well.
    “I had several years of teaching under my belt so I knew something about behavior management and taking care of children’s needs,” she said. “As a single parent, I had my family and friends for support, but I think everyone thought I was crazy.”
    Linda Humphrey, Shannon’s mother, said it was an exciting time in her daughter’s life, but everyone was scared because they did not know if or when the children would be taken away.
    “We knew she was certainly capable of taking care of children, but we always had that thought before they were adopted that she might not get them,” she said. “She is extremely caring, always putting others before herself, and is a great mother.”
    Humphrey said her biggest adjustment was discovering that she could not just pick up and go places anymore. She said a tremendous amount of planning had to go into every decision because she was a single parent of three children.
    Page 3 of 5 - “Like any first-time parent, there is a period of adjustment,” said Humphrey, who was able to adopt the children after several months. “I have had the most amazing life and have gotten to travel all over the place to experience the most incredible things. Now, all I can think about is sharing those experiences with my children.”
    Humphrey said she and her children, who are now 11, 8 and 7, are “incredibly connected.” She said they do everything together and love spending time outside riding bikes or experiencing nature.
    “Every Sunday morning, we go out for breakfast and then onto church. It is a nice time for us each week,” she said. “We go to every art show and love doing things outside. All three kids are off training wheels now, so we are really into bike riding.”
    Marlowe said she has seen Humphrey grow as a person and a parent since the three children came into her life.
    “I was very grateful when Shannon decided to adopt her children. I knew that she would be the greatest gift of their lives and that they would have life because of her love,” she said. “They also gave her the opportunity to have a family that blesses her life every day.”
    A Surprising Diagnosis
    Despite her family and a job that she loved, Humphrey said she felt like something was off in regards to her health. For two years, she had been visiting the doctor regularly, complaining of discomfort, fatigue and pain. She underwent a hysterectomy and had her gall bladder removed, thinking that would solve her health problems. And although, the pain would subside, it did not go away.
    “I was in a lot of pain and kept trying to get tests run,” she said. “But my doctors were unwilling to give me an X-ray or really try to find out what the issue was.”
    Then, in September 2010, Humphrey’s back went out completely. She visited a chiropractor who was able to give her some relief, but he expressed some concern that something was terribly wrong. Humphrey switched doctors and tests were run immediately.
    At first, Humphrey was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. But after a more comprehensive test, it was discovered that she had small tumors throughout her body. She was diagnosed with stage 3 multiple myeloma. Forty-five percent of her plasma was found to be cancerous.
    “There are only three stages of blood disease, so I had a very advanced case,” she said. “I am still in a lot of pain and started going through radiation and chemotherapy treatments. I then had a stem cell transplant in April (2011).”
    Humphrey said she was in shock to learn of the diagnosis. She said in her 20s, she always thought the worst when she had aches or pains. But as she got older, she became less frightened, always choosing to think on the brighter side. That is why the cancer diagnosis hit her hard.
    Page 4 of 5 - “One thing I have had to fall back on is my personal faith and beliefs. I have also had incredible support from my family and the Procter community,” she said. “The most difficult part is the effect it has had on my children. I never want to be the cause of anyone’s problems. I have tried to be really open with the kids and talk to them as much as I can about what is going on.”
    Linda Humphrey said her daughter has never sat back and asked, “Why me?”
    “I am amazed that she is not letting this take control of her life,” she said. “She hasn’t missed a day of work this year and has set a remarkable example for all of us.”
    Humphrey said a stem cell transplant is debilitating, with most people taking off at least a year of work to recover from it, if not going on disability or retiring. She said prior to the transplant, she underwent two full days of intense chemotherapy that basically “killed off” everything in her body. She said as time went by, however, her energy levels started to increase.
    A big milestone, Humphrey said, was when she walked to the end of her driveway and back. Then, she was able to walk across the street to her parents’ home and finally, was able to make it around the block. She said she felt like every step she took was a step closer to getting back to work.
    “I wanted to go back to work. I knew it was good for me, even though my oncologist was not happy about me returning so quickly,” she said. “As a single parent, I need to work if I can. So far, it has been a good year. I have had to make a couple of adjustments, and I am a little slower in doing some things, but I needed to come back.”
    Marlowe said it was extremely difficult for Humphrey to not be teaching. She said she is passionate about her profession and loves to be in her classroom doing what she does best, but Humphrey also knew that her battle had to come first.
    “She does so much giving to Procter, we were glad to rally and support her class while she fought her cancer battle,” Marlowe said. “Her greatest challenge was being isolated and not able to interact with Procter. Shannon’s strategy was to write what was happening to her and we all nicknamed her ‘the Erma Bombeck of cancer.’”
    Multiple myeloma is not curable. Humphrey said the disease is treatable, but it means a lifetime of monitoring different levels to make sure she is receiving the appropriate treatment.
    “The best analogy I have heard is that it is like living with diabetes. It is constant monitoring and then making adjustments based on those levels,” Humphrey said. “If my levels get too high, it means more intense treatment. The goal is to keep my levels down until they find a cure.”
    Page 5 of 5 - Living Each Day to the Fullest
    Humphrey said her goal now is to live life in the moment and not take anything for granted. She said she used to think that way when her children were young and she did not know how long they would stay with her. She said now she has returned to that way of thinking, spending as much time with her children, family and friends as she possibly can.
    “I am living with purpose. I have a purpose-driven life,” she said. “I have realized that none of us know what our future holds. I don’t know how much time I will have with my children, so in all aspects of my life, I try to be the best that I can be and make any adjustments that I need to.”

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