Night of love for Mid-Prairie music teacher Collette McClellen

By Paul D. Bowker
Posted 9/22/22


Collette McClellen has walked the hallways at Mid-Prairie High School since the 1990s.

She graduated in 1997. Her parents still live here, as do her brother and her sister.

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Night of love for Mid-Prairie music teacher Collette McClellen



Collette McClellen has walked the hallways at Mid-Prairie High School since the 1990s.

She graduated in 1997. Her parents still live here, as do her brother and her sister.

She’s been a vocal music teacher for 21 years.

She loves music. And she loves her “kids.”

When Collette announced to her music students last spring that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she did it on the last day of school.

“Choir songs are always so emotional and sappy for graduation,” she says, “so singing those songs, we were saying, time to say goodbye.”

But it wasn’t goodbye. It was hello. It’s always been that way for McClellen, who has touched so many hearts and so many singing voices at Mid-Prairie over the years.

Her popularity and love was evident Sept. 15 at Mid-Prairie’s gymnasium, when the Golden Hawks’ home volleyball arena was filled with kids and adults wearing T-shirts honoring McClellen on “Dig Pink” Night. It was the team’s annual fundraiser for cancer awareness.

Walking down a hallway between the music room and the packed gym, McClellen walked past a wall that was filled with posters filled out by volleyball players, all of them signed in a tribute to either McClellen or another person with cancer they wanted to honor.

Prior to the Golden Hawks match against Wilton, McClellan, her head now bald from ongoing cancer treatments, stood proudly with her students as she looked up and saw all those T-shirts worn by all those people.

“I don’t mind being bald whatsoever, that doesn’t bother me,” she says with a laugh.

And then she walked out to the middle of the floor with her students and one of her children, and they sung the national anthem.

Glance around the gym and you’d have noticed wet eyes.

“I love having music for the anthem,” she said.

Collette wouldn’t have done it any other way. Since beginning her ongoing battery of 21-day cancer treatment cycles, she hasn’t missed class. She’s still there teaching, through all the energy-draining days and other side effects that come from chemotherapy. She has days that she can’t taste. And the pesky cold sores are a reminder of what is going on.

The support from her school family has touched her.

“It’s great,” she said. “Everybody has been super supportive and awesome and they’re helpful. Do you need anything? People bringing us meals and just supporting in every way. Seeing them all out there is awesome.”

“Collette is a wonderful educator,” said Pete Cavanagh, a social studies teacher and head football coach. “I can tell her students love and respect her. I have a ton of respect for her.”

A dedicated fan of the school’s volleyball team, Collette settled into the stands with her husband, Matthew, and children, Adric and Fiona, to watch an emotional victory by Mid-Prairie against Class 2A power Wilton on a night that meant so much.

The Golden Hawks wore special pink jerseys for cancer awareness.

The night will turn into a powerful memory for McClellen, who is really at the beginning of a journey which began last May. There were no symptoms.

“I didn’t have normal lumps and bumps or anything,” she said. “I just had some small little lymph nodes. Went in, and surprise, you have cancer.”

In McClellen’s case, it was HER2-positive breast cancer, a particularly aggressive cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, the protein involved actually promotes the growth of cancer cells.

She received her first chemo treatment June 15, beginning a series of 21-day cycles in which a day of infusions is followed by 20 days of recovery, and then another 21-day cycle starts. She is on her fifth treatment. After the sixth cycle of treatment to kill cancer cells, she’ll undergo a mastectomy and then constant doses of radiation. After that, she’ll undergo a surgical reconstruction.

Collette and Matthew are thankful that a new treatment has been found to be effective in HERS2 cases.

And they’re thankful for family.

“It was difficult telling the family and all of that,” she said. “I’m very, very lucky that I have a ton of family right here.”

In fact, because of international travels by family, McClellen held off on any announcements of her cancer until she could tell her mom and dad. They were home together for only about a day and a half.

“We had to wait until they were all here,” Matthew McClellen said. “Couldn’t tell our kids, couldn’t tell our best friends.”

“Then I have to tell my kids here at school because they’re my kids,” Collette said. “That was difficult. I didn’t tell the kids here at school until the very last day of school.”

Those kids huddled around their teacher as they waited to sing last Thursday. They had practiced in the music room. They had walked past that wall with all the cancer messages. They had looked up and saw all those pink T-shirts.

“They’re good kids,” Collette said with a heartwarming smile. “I spend a lot of time, I’ll have them for four years.”

News columnist Paul Bowker can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @bowkerpaul.

Mid-Prairie, Dig Pink, breast cancer, Collette McClellen, HERS2, volleyball


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