Friona teacher continues educating after two bouts with cancer

Friona ISD and the community have helped teacher (Martha Rodriguez) with the road to recovery following two battles with cancer (Drew Powell ABC 7 News)

In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week, ABC7 News is showcasing a teacher who excels at her job but has also overcome adversity outside of the classroom. In 2006, Friona Elementary School teacher Martha Rodriguez was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. She had to take time off to deal with the disease and was able to beat it. Nearly ten years later, she had to take time off again this time to deal with Squamous Carcinoma which is a form of Tongue Cancer.

After missing more than two months in the fall of 2016, she returned to the classroom.

“I love teaching,” said Martha Rodriguez, Social Studies teacher. “I found out once I came back into the classroom and you see that spark in the student eyes that they get it, it makes everything so worthwhile.”

“Here we have an actual experience of someone the students know who is here and showing them how to overcome something,” said Travis Victory, Principal at Friona Elementary. “She cares about them. Even though there are many things going on in her life outside of the classroom she still cares about her students.”

Doctors had to remove some of her tongue and replace it with muscle tissue from her right arm. She has a follow up appointment in Dallas with a doctor in June. Having to overcome two different forms of cancer within a 10-year period forced Martha to learn how to write with both her left hand and her right hand.

“I taught myself to write left handed and it came in handy,” said Rodriguez. “Following my surgery they removed some of my lymph nodes from my right side and it effected my nerve so I couldn’t hold my arm up very long to write. I would start with my right hand and then switch to my left hand and it's funny because it really impressed the kids.”

Friona ISD and the community pitched in to help with trips to and from hospitals in Dallas and in Amarillo. Each day when she walks the hallway at school she tells ABC 7 News she’s reminded of the journey to recovery and vows surviving cancer twice is tough but it can be done.

“You need prayer first and you need people praying for you,” said Rodriguez. “You need a good group of friends that can make you laugh. You can’t get through this without laughter.”

“It’s a tribute to her that she persevered and to the people that supported her,” said Dr. Pamela Nelson-Ray, Superintendent Friona ISD. “It took her and her family along with the community and support of fellow teachers and staff to get through this and she is a true inspiration. She’s a light for other people to look up to.”

Rodriguez says cancer runs in her family. She tells ABC 7 News she has no plans of slowing down or changing careers because she loves her job and loves working with kids.

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