Fort Miami Stands Tough Against Cancer While Supporting Mother-Daughter Duo

The Fort Miami Elementary staff donated a large gift basket to the Mitchell family, a school family with two members battling cancer. Pictured are (center, seated) parents Jamie Irwin and Shaun Mitchell with Veda Mitchell (second from left). With them are (from left) student Natalie Borreson, kindergarten teacher Joy Bressler, school nurse Courtney Vallade and students Noah Carpenter and Claire Moebius. MIRROR PHOTO BY NANCY GAGNET

BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — Jamie Irwin and her daughter Veda Mitchell were given matching mother/daughter T-shirts that read, “Tough like my mommy” and “Tough like my daughter.”

Veda, a Fort Miami Elementary kindergartner is undergoing maintenance treatment for leukemia and Jamie recently began treatment for breast cancer, which was diagnosed in June. School nurse Courtney Vallade made the T-shirts.

“I just wanted to give them something special that makes them feel special together since they are going through this together. It’s something to give them that morale boost and make them smile,” she said.

The situation has definitely put a strain on the family – Veda is one of five children – so the staff at Fort Miami pitched in to donate funds for a large gift basket filled with a variety of items, including gift cards, snacks, a new lunch box and the T-shirts. The basket was presented to the family on October 22.

Vallade coordinated the effort because she knows how devastating fighting cancer can be. Before joining the staff at Fort Miami this year, Vallade worked for 10 years as an oncology nurse. When she learned that a family at school has multiple members diagnosed with cancer, she stepped up to do everything possible to help them out. 

“The stress from the treatment and side effects along with the mental exhaustion – I couldn’t fathom what they are going through,” she said. “We just wanted to put this gift basket together to help support them and alleviate some of those stressors.”

Vallade has been reaching out the to family regularly to keep updated on progress and help where she can. 

Veda’s kindergarten teacher Joy Bressler said it was important for the children to talk about the situation in general terms.

“We wanted to focus on the fact that she is in school and feeling better – just enjoying life,” Bressler said.

The students also made Veda and her mother Jamie get-well cards.

Jamie is grateful for the love and support, which she says has been overwhelming.

“This is incredible, I am speechless,” said Jamie. “This has definitely been a wild ride.”

Veda was diagnosed in March 2020 and has been undergoing treatment for 19 months while Jamie started treatment in August. Both should be finished with treatment next summer.

The gift basket was presented to the family on National Unity Day, which is a day to focus on acceptance, inclusion and kindness, said school counselor Shannon Cusumano. The anti-bullying messages she is helping to promote throughout the building coincide with helping children become aware of and sympathize with situations other students are experiencing, such as cancer treatment.

“It helps them empathize with other students,” she said. “So we can support each other and unify together.”

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