A few years ago, Kelly and Michael Witter portrayed Laurey Williams and Curly McLain, respectively, in a community theater production of the musical “Oklahoma.” Some scenes depict a gathering for a dance and wedding, and features an auction of a lunch basket.
Life imitated art on March 1, 2017, when the community gathered for the Witters, and a basket played a major role in the event.
Hundreds of people packed the Clyde-Savannah High School gym to watch a benefit volleyball match between the staffs of Clyde-Savannah and Red Creek. The benefit was for Kelly, who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and the aforementioned basket was used to collect donations for her. Michael is a music teacher at the school, and although Kelly didn’t know a lot of the people at the match, it was an emotional experience.
“I was nervous on the drive there, but once I got there, I was completely overwhelmed,” Kelly says. “I was in tears because I was overwhelmed with their support … It was just amazing to see so much support from all of them — many of them have never met me before. Michael was also very touched by how many students came.’’
Laura Rundell, wellness coordinator, worked with other staff members to organize and carry out the event, which also featured teal “Team Witter” T-shirts. Rundell says raising money wasn’t the sole objective of the night.
"From our perspective, this was for the community to come together and show our support for Kelly and Mike," she says. "There was a note in her basket that said, ‘When illness is replaced with we, it becomes wellness.’
“We wanted to show we would be there and we would all be together. Having the camaraderie of the matching T-shirts and an event where everyone would come together … It was never about money, it was about support.’’
Kelly, who is a music teacher in Gananda Central School District, says her grade school students surprised her.
“On my 40th birthday, the school went down to the gym and I had no idea what was going on,” she says. “Every single grade sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ There were balloons, and at the end they all put hats on because I am always wearing hats or wigs since my hair loss. It was a very touching day.’’
Kelly found out she had cancer in October, after she was originally diagnosed with pneumonia. When antibiotics didn’t work and she had some issues with her breathing, she underwent a scan in which a mass was discovered on her ovaries. She was ordered to go to the hospital but delayed doing so because her daughter, Genevieve, had an open house. The teacher in Kelly couldn’t miss that.
After months of treatment, chemotherapy and having her lungs drained, Kelly was preparing for surgery on April 17. She hoped this would be the end of the ordeal but was also preparing for the possibility of more chemotherapy. In early April, the cancer had reached Stage 4 and was at risk of spreading.
Because many of her treatments came during the holidays, this might seem like a sad story. But Kelly incorporates optimism as additional medicine and not only enjoyed the holiday season, but welcomed 2017 by working on directing the Ruben A. Cirillo High School production of “Once On This Island.”
She is not on an island when it comes to support.
“I am absolutely determined to not let this get me down,” she says. “My family is supportive and right away my husband said it’s not a big deal — I was going to beat this. Our holidays were fantastic because we were not going to let this get us down.’’