Teacher leaves behind a legacy for health


Bridget Tolle, Pitchfork

Spanish teacher Mary Sue Dayton is bombarded with love from her third hour class. The class had previously thrown a surprise party since it was her last day before she left for radiation treatment for cancer. She will be dearly missed by the students and faculty. A letter from Hometown Hero Dayton to students can be read on pages 8 and 9.

Spanish teacher Mary Sue Dayton started teaching at Duncan High School in the fall of 2015. She expected to have a great first year and to meet many students and teachers that would change her life in a good way. What she did not expect was to be diagnosed with cancer in the middle of the school year.

She had two options.

She could either give up, or she could keep fighting.

Luckily for her students, she decided to go with her second option and keep fighting.

After getting a call while teaching her eighth period on Jan. 20, she found out she had Mucosal Malignant Melanoma in her rectum. Dayton did not have any idea what would happen to her.

“When Ms. Dayton found out she had cancer that day, I was in her class,” sophomore Alleson Howard said. “She was so upset, and I felt so horrible. I was just scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen to her.”

This was not her first time to be diagnosed with cancer. In 2002, Dayton was diagnosed with Cutaneous Melanoma in her left knee. She was diagnosed a second time, and her doctors did not even know she had cancer until one of her kidneys failed and doctors found it after it was already taken out.

Although it was the third time she had heard the words, “You have cancer,” it was just as scary.

“I felt like my life was over,” Dayton said. “I cried and cried and cried because I knew melanoma was bad. I knew that even if they got rid of it, it could come back and spread, and it will come back and spread. That’s the bad part.”

One week later, Dayton saw an oncologist, Dr. Eugenio Najera, at the Duncan Regional Cancer Center.

“He explained to me what my options were on what they would do. He said that they would cut it [cancer] out, probably do some radiation and immunotherapy,” Dayton said. “The doctors only had one chance to get it right. He said that they could only cut into it once.”

Since there was only one chance to get it right, she wanted only the best doctors to do the job. She researched doctors and cancer centers online that had seen her type of cancer before, and she found MD Anderson Cancer Hospital in Houston, Texas.

“If you look up places to go for treatment of other cancers, there’s millions,” she said. “For Mucosal Melanoma, there’s only 17.”

MD Anderson is one of the most world renowned cancer centers, and she went to her first appointment there on Feb. 29.

“Within my first two days there, I had three MRIs, two CAT scans, blood tests, saw a surgeon and an oncologist,” Dayton said. “They were on it like glue.”

Dayton’s type of melanoma is very rare. MD Anderson only sees one to two cases of Mucosal Malignant Melanoma every year.

After her appointment, she was able to return to Duncan and teach for the next few weeks.

Dayton had to return to Houston to visit with her doctors and anesthesiologist on March 23 and 25. She had pre-op for her surgery on April 3, and her actual surgery on April 6.

“I was out of the hospital by the seventh [of April] and home by the eighth with no pain,” Dayton said.

She went back for another check up in late April to check on how her wounds were healing and get a report for the results of her surgery.

“They got all of the cancer out depth wise. But there was still some left around the perimeter,” Dayton said. “Doctors were very pleased with the results, except for the peripheral margins, so that’s why I’m going to have to have radiation.”

The oncologist that she saw while she was there said that he wanted to do five treatments of radiation over a three week period.   

“I wanted to do my treatment here so I could keep teaching,” Dayton said. “But the doctors said I needed to do it in Houston. It starts on May 12 and I’ll have it through May 26.”

Dayton has become very close to the students and faculty at Duncan, and many of them have helped with some of the expenses.

“Duncan High School has been very supportive,” Dayton said. “Even though I have only been working here for one year, I feel like they’re my family.”

Her third hour each put in $5 to help pay for gas costs when she drives to Houston and threw her a surprise party on her last day of teaching. Also, many teachers have donated their sick days to help her with absences.

“Ms. Dayton was more than a teacher, she was family,” junior Micah Weber said. “She was an awesome teacher and an awesome friend.”