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Selena Strong

Meet Selena Brandon: the woman behind the cancer diagnosis

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Selena Strong

Leira Barlis

Leira Barlis

Leira Barlis

Alexis Myles and Joshua Whalen

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Every day until two in the afternoon, she sits behind her desk. Her days are spent scheduling Thursday night lives, having to discipline kids and sending out truancy letters. A purple orchid rests atop her desk, right next to a box of tissues and a small glass cross. She’s hidden, tucked behind the 7-foot-5-inch wooden AP office door. Some have never met her, others talk to her on a daily basis. Some confide in her: they tell her their secrets, their fears, their hopes, their dreams. Some don’t even know her name. They just know her as the lady who has cancer.

Selena Brandon is more than her disease. She’s “the daughter of the king most high,” she’s a lover, she’s a fighter, she’s “the wife of Wayne, the mother to Chad and Sean Brandon and over 2,000 more born of her heart.” Her accent stems from the clear, turquoise waters of Jamaica. She likes her Starbucks White Mocha piping hot, topped with whipped cream and her McDonald’s Egg White Delight without ham, substitute bacon. Since the beginning, Selena Brandon has been more than just a diagnosis of pancreatic and kidney cancer; she’s the light of Heritage High School.

“There are so many [memories], it’s like snapshots in my heart of accomplishments of when I see my kids do something great or when they realize their worth,” Selena said.

Cafeteria worker, receptionist, assistant principal secretary: Selena has worked under many titles. But the list is much longer: friend, caregiver, singer, swimmer, spelling bee champ, a shoulder to cry on, an “undying hope”. For 10 years, Selena has served as an inspiration and metaphorical mother to many students in need of support.

“Mrs. Brandon is an example of what a person should be,” teacher April Thurmon said.  “She inspires me every day to be better and to stay positive.”

It’s been two years since Selena was diagnosed with stage IIB pancreatic and kidney cancer. For those past two years, the daily cycle has consisted of waking up, taking medication, coming to work helping kids until 2:00 p.m., completing 90 minutes of radiation at the Methodist Richardson Cancer Center, coming home and recuperating.  And for the days where the pain became too much, she says she had “the holy spirit” to be there, to speak to and comfort her, like a security blanket.

“[On difficult days, I] let the Lord know, I’m struggling right now, that this nausea is really giving me a hard time,” Selena said.

So when she feels sick to her stomach, she knocks back her anti-nausea medication with whatever beverage is nearest. But through the nausea and the pain of the tumor pressing against the area that once held her pancreas, Selena says she was always “surrounded by joy, hope, encouragement, and support.”

“Death is never about the person leaving, but about those left behind that have to live with that hole, that void,” Selena said.

Selena Brandon has seen a lot of tragedy in her life, yet still, she smiles. She smiles after being told two years ago that she had only six weeks to six months to live. She smiles through the chemo, and radiation, she smiles though she knows she won’t see her grandchildren grow up. She smiles when students come to her with tears in their eyes from the weight of the world pressing down on them. In the end, she smiles, always ready to offer a hug, a tissue or even a piece of candy, from her desk, behind the wooden AP office door.

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Selena Strong