Elementary school teacher inspires others to participate in the annual Jimmy Fund Walk

BOSTON — This weekend’s Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk will look different from the previous 31 years, but it’s message hasn’t changed.

Thousands are walking virtually, in “their own way,” to fight cancer and raise money to support the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Among them is a teacher in Mansfield, now a cancer survivor, who just a year ago never imagined she’d be able to take part in the walk.

“I wanted to live for my niece, my parents. I have a 90-year-old grandmother and just felt so strongly that it wasn’t my time,” said Rayna Freedman.

Freedman is a 5th grader teacher at Jordan Jackson Elementary School in Mansfield. In September 2019 she was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Unbeknown to her, Rayna was told she had been living with the cancer for five years, perhaps even ten.

“These types of cancers, colorectal cancers, usually develop from precancerous lesions, usually a polyp or a type of polyp called a adenoma,” said Freedman’s oncologist, Dr. Humberto Rossi.

Dr. Rossi said the process of becoming cancer can take a decade and that he is diagnosing younger and younger patients, like the 42-year-old Freedman, with colon cancer.

“That’s why screening is effective because we can find these precancerous polyps and remove them before they become a cancer,” said Dr. Rossi.

In early October, Freedman had a colectomy to remove the tumor in her colon. A few weeks later she had a second emergency surgery. Through it all she said her mother and father never left her side.

“No parent should have to watch, sorry, a child go through what I had to go through and my parents sat every day at that hospital from 10 o’clock in the morning until they were actually kicked out,” said Freedman.

One of Freedman’s nurses was actually a former student of hers from years ago.

“She was spouting advice that I gave her as a third grader to me that I really needed to hear,” said Freedman.

Freedman also credits her students for helping her get through chemotherapy.

“My kids learned, 'A' a lot about human strength," said Freedman. “I didn’t even know the strength I had to be honest. I didn’t know I had it in me, but they learned that nothing is going to stop me and cancer doesn’t have to be scary and you can learn to live with it.”

Freedman, who is back teaching fulltime, will participate in this weekend’s virtual Jimmy Fund Walk Your Way to raise money for colon cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and to honor all those who helped her every step of the way.

She and her team have raised more than $26,000 for cancer research.