Courtney Forget was created to create. As an elementary school art teacher to 800 students, Courtney inspires minds and uses humor to encourage everyone around her. Even with the diagnosis of stage four colorectal cancer, her ability to marry art with humor never took a backseat.
In September of 2014, Courtney experienced uncomfortable digestive issues, particularly diarrhea. She changed her diet and didn’t think it was a big deal. In an effort to be in prime condition for the upcoming wedding to her college sweetheart of eight years, she gave a stool sample to be extra safe. The feedback she received from her doctor was simply “just eat a salad more often.” She was married in October of 2014 but within the year was still experiencing symptoms. The school year was wrapping up but she could barely keep up. With exhaustion approaching an unbearable level and lots of pain and blood in her bowels, she demanded a colonoscopy.
Coming out of the colonoscopy, and still under influence of anesthesia, she jokingly asked the doctor, “What? Did you find cancer or something?” The next day, while visiting her parents, she received the final news. She was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. “I had no idea cancer could be in your colon,” she says. “It was the only time out of the last few years that I cried.”
Her co-workers, students, and entire school were there every step of the way. On the night of November 6, 2015, Courtney underwent her first surgery while her school simultaneously hosted a spaghetti fundraiser in her honor. When she had to leave early for cancer center appointments, it was often the parents of her students who were driving her. A second grade teacher from her school shaved her head when the time was right and the students loved the colorful wig she wore. “I could definitely feel the love.” Courtney made a commitment to herself and to her kids to be upfront and honest throughout the entire process.
“Kids are intuitive, they know when things are wrong.” Courtney sat down with each class and described her port, the disease, and what she was experiencing, using art to draw diagrams for them to understand. “I wanted to make sure I answered every single question.”
Courtney’s journey, particularly as a teacher, was not an easy one. Not only was there surgery but she was hospitalized multiple times and suffered from pelvic radiation disease, blood clots, and fever. She experienced pain regularly, and became dehydrated more often than not. “My job was never guaranteed and that was a very scary thought for me.” She endured bouts of depression only to learn that the chemotherapy prematurely kicked her into menopause. “You’re teaching full time but struggling. I was depressed and going through menopause at the same time. Menopause at 31 was interesting. I was exhausted and dragging.” Still, through all of her struggles, she found humor in her situation.
Her creative outlet, an online blog, was a way for her to capture and share her experience. The blog was positive but real, highlighting embarrassing moments with a rawness, and was met with praise. “I wanted people to laugh with me and treat me like I’m normal. I saw people shy away. I didn’t want the pity. I couldn’t do it. I don’t like how people treated me with white gloves. That’s not who I am.”
Art enables you to find or lose yourself. Courtney found art within every step of her journey. She rocked a colorful rainbow wig for the six month of chemo treatments and even bedazzled her ostomy bag, comically referred to as “Miss Jellyroll.” She celebrates her favorite piece of art, a blue heart tattoo next to her port scar every day. “It’s a permanent, significant milestone of ‘we did it.’ I have so many scars on my body and I wanted to add one on my own.”
For this year’s Dress in Blue Day, Courtney encouraged her entire school to participate and wear blue. She attended the DC ScopeItOut 5K in Washington, DC on March 18th. She is living the life she deserves, choosing rainbows (in the form of a wig) over rain. “Even in the dark days, I love humor. I love making people laugh. I love making things ridiculous. I feel like the cancer was never really about me. I needed people to see it in a certain light with me. I need people to be on the same page with me. I don’t want all of the sadness for my cancer right now.”
In March, we observe National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Join us as we build our nation of passionate allies, fiercely determined to end this disease within our lifetime.