Small town shows big heart for ailing educator




Posted on December 13, 2011 at 8:30 PM

Updated Sunday, Dec 25 at 11:54 PM

STEPHENVILLE - "This is a special kind of gum," said six-year-old Cole Garrett. "It's not just gum."

Cole Garrett chews gum with the image of a pink ribbon on it. He does it for his mom.

Carrie Normand recently found out she has breast cancer, but not knowing may have been harder. For more than two weeks she suspected something was wrong, and while waiting for the results of her mammogram, she attended a pep rally at Stephenville High School, during breast cancer awareness month.

"I remember attending that pep rally wondering whether I had breast cancer or not," said Carrie, early in December. "And that was [...] that was hard. It was breast cancer awareness month, and everywhere I looked, there was something about breast cancer and I was carrying around a lump in my chest that I did not know what it was.

"That's probably the only moment where I had a little bit of fear, and a little bit of loneliness, where I kind of sat there and thought, 'Am I one of them? Do I have breast cancer?'" she continued.

On Oct. 26, she learned that the answer was yes. She got a call from her doctor during class, on her school phone, informing her that she had breast cancer.

That day was also the first day that high school basketball teams could begin practicing, and her husband Jonathan Normand was starting his first year as the varsity head coach at Stephenville High School.

"When she got to the point where she told me, around 3:45 or so, she told me with a straight face and she was strong about it," Coach Normand said. "Because of her strength, I was strong about it, and I walked onto the practice floor and I had practice."

"He just looked at me matter-of-factly and said, 'Well if you're going to be strong about it, then so will I,'" Carrie said. "And that was the conversation we had in the boys' basketball coaches office, five minutes before practice, and he went on to the court and I came home to the kids."

Since then, everything happened fast.

Surgery on Nov. 16 - a double mastectomy. Chemotherapy scheduled to begin during Christmas break. And a fund-raising effort that has been truly inspiring.

"We have a very faith-based community, and it's the reason why Stephenville people live in Stephenville, is because we're going to pray for each other," Carrie said. "We've all done it, and now they're giving back to me, right now. Every church, I'm on every church's prayer list. I'm everywhere. I got a message on my Facebook wall today that, Texas Bank here in town is -- their whole staff is wearing the Coaches for a Cure t-shirts today. And I laughed and said, 'They're not even my bank!'"

Carrie teaches English at Stephenville and is a former basketball coach herself, and she has touched a lot of lives in Stephenville. This time, they touched her.

"It's a group effort," said senior guard Brian Picha. "Everyone pitches in. That's not something big cities have, and I think that's a real big advantage to living in a community like Stephenville."

Aledo High School pitched in, too. Their boys and girls teams joined in on this Coaches for a Cure night at Stephenville.

Steve Smith coaches the boys varsity at Aledo, and he learned that several of his players have been affected by cancer.

"The first thing I had them do is I had them raise their hand if they had anybody in their family that had been affected by cancer," Smith said. "And out of our 12 players, I think eight of their hands went up.

"We feel like we have a good group of kids, and the more life experiences we can give them, the better off they're going to be and the more well-rounded they're going to be and the better equipped to go out and handle some of life's challenges," Smith continued.

"I just know family and friends who have been impacted by it, and it just means a lot to everyone that's participating in this event," said Aledo senior forward Pierce Gentry. "It's very special to this town and to our town."

So many different people have helped in the fund-raising efforts, including a couple of seventh grade twin girls, who were given $100 each by their church and told to double it for a charity. They did better than that.

On the night of Coaches for a Cure, Heidy and Haily Sieperda estimated their bracelet sales had raised about $2,000.

"They used the $200 to buy 1,500 bracelets, and within a couple of days, they had sold 500 at school," Carrie said.

"And that was two weeks ago and as fast as I can pull one on my wrist, is someone else saying, 'Hey, where can I get one of these?'" Coach Normand said. "And I pass it along; this is probably the 20th one I've worn."

Haily and Heidy have seen their bracelets all over Stephenville.

"Our coaches at the junior high, I think all the coaches have the bracelets," Haily said.

"And the teachers," Heidy said. "The teachers have them, and some of the students."

"And especially some of the students at the high school," added Haily, "because this is their teacher and they want to help her as much as possible."

From the bracelets, a bake sale that included a cake auction and other donations, the people of Stephenville raised $12,750 for the Normands. It was a team effort. And it's been a learning experience.

"It's a huge wake-up call, because before that, that's pretty much all that was on my mind, basketball," said Miles Holstein, a senior guard at Stephenville. "Once you hear that, you realize it's not about yourself, it's more of a team thing. And not just basketball, but a team as in everybody, together, your whole school."

The Normands have a long way to go. But they have no doubt that they'll get there.

"She even mentioned to me yesterday that, 'I'm not worried about the cancer, I can beat that,'" said Coach Normand. "'I may worry about something else, but I'm ready to beat this.'"