Apache IS teachers support colleague with brain tumor at Head for the Cure 5K

Lisa Joerling, center with pink shoes, ran a Head for the Cure 5K last weekend alongside her fellow teachers from Apache IS. Submitted photo.

When Lisa Joerling, a local brain tumor survivor, lined up to run the Head for the Cure 5K at Corporate Woods last weekend, she was not alone.

Several of her colleagues from Apache IS in Overland Park, including principal Britt Pumphrey, joined her team at the Head for the Cure 5K last weekend to support cancer research and families like her who battle tumors and cancer every day.

Head for the Cure
Lisa Joerling is a fourth grade teacher at Apache Innovative Elementary School. Photo credit Lisa Joerling

“The last few years in Kansas City, it’s really just been my family and a couple of friends,” Joerling said after the run. “So to have my school family come was really special.”

Joerling is a fourth grade teacher at Apache IS. For the past few years she wasn’t sure how to broach the subject to her colleagues because her scans showed no sign of a regrowth.

An MRI scan in May changed that. This year’s 5K was especially important to Joerling because the recent scan detected a “flair spot” on her brain — even though her scans had been stable for the past four years. Her doctors are still deciding whether the change is bad, good or just different; the unknown is scary.

“Things aren’t as stable now as they were previously,” she said. “They don’t quite know what it means; they don’t think it’s regrowth of a tumor, but I’ve had new symptoms in my hand, so they’re watching me much more closely now.”

Joerling, who has been running in Head for the Cure events for five years, said the foundation’s mission to raise funds for cancer research resonates with her and her family.

“They bring together a community of people, and so I’ve met a lot of survivors and a lot of families through their events,” Joerling said.

Head for the Cure honored Joerling at the 5K for “Keeping the Faith” and showing her support.

Besides running 5Ks, Joerling is also working on her master’s degree and obtaining her certification to teach English as a second language.

Joerling was diagnosed five years ago at the age of 19 with a grade 1 ganglioglioma brain tumor. Ganglioglioma is a rare and slowly growing benign tumor, according to the National Institutes of Health. The tumor was the size of a golf ball and located on the motor strip, which affected her right hand. She had just finished her freshman year at Kansas State University when she was diagnosed.

“I woke up that morning and my entire right side was numb,” Joerling said. She was diagnosed and had surgery in less than two weeks, but she had to relearn how to use her right hand. Six weeks after surgery, she returned to K-State to continue working toward her bachelor’s degree.

Recently, she also started having partial seizures in her right hand and is taking seizure medicine for it. It’s unclear if the seizures are related to the new spot on her MRI, which means lots of questions are unanswered right now.

“This tumor is so rare; they don’t know prognosis factors,” Joerling said. “They were hoping and thinking it would never come back, but that may be changing with this latest scan. Right now we are on a watch and wait.”

That’s why the outpour of support from Joerling’s colleagues means so much to her.

“We’re not sure what the next scan will show and what the next year looks like, and so I think that they’ve been really great at being flexible and supportive.”