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July 12, 2024

Longtime teacher retires after cancer battle

Contributed Photo of Dee Heckman

GREENFIELD — Longtime Greenfield elementary teacher Dee Heckman is retiring due to a battle with cancer. Before she started her latest round of treatments, she said she wanted to say goodbye to everyone who’s been wondering where she went after leaving the classroom in February of this year.

“I have been privileged to work with incredible staff and administration throughout the years and I will truly miss my Greenfield family. That includes students, staff and administration,” Heckman said.

Starting with the district in 1989, Heckman worked up through January of this year, trying her best to work through the pain and illness.

“I was going to retire once I started teaching grandkids. I’m 51 right now and I was planning on teaching to at least 60,” she said, adding that it is “hard to give up this career because my body isn’t working.”

Heckman was one teacher who took parent-teacher conferences to the next level, by going out and visiting parents at their homes. “I would get to know the families that way.”

She explained her passion for teaching by saying, “I’m a teacher because I want to learn form my students and they learn from me, and I want to deliver the curriculum in a way they can understand.”

Heckman noted her pride in knowing her past students have gone on to Berkeley, became board members for the district, and even became teachers.

“It’s such an honor to pass the torch to people that I’ve taught,” she said.

Her battle with blood cancer has included chemotherapy in the past, due to her allergies to the primary lymphoma drugs.

“Lymphoma’s a mind trip,” she said. “People think you get cancer, get treated, and it goes away.” However, with her lymphoma and her allergies, she’s has to undergo a constant battle. “You wait until theres major symptoms and then get treated.”

Regarding her dealing with more than a decade of cancer treatment and her job, Heckman said, “I worked through most of my treatments. For a long time in the beginning I was pretty strong.”

The latest bone marrow biopsy in February found that Heckman’s cancer had spread to her bones.

“I got so sick, my focus could only be on me. All these other times I was worried about my classes,” she said. “All of March I was in and out of hospitals. I was transfusion dependent.”

She began a new treatment in March. With her white blood cell count going up, she said she was able to stop transfusions beginning in May.

“I thought I would get healthy enough after spring break to come back,” she said.

Her recovery, however, was minimal and she made the decision to officially retire. She described her current condition as having severe back pain and unable to lift objects.

“At this point I don’t think I could teach again. It’s nice this new drug is making my body produce blood. I have color on my cheeks. But I don’t think I’ll ever get back to full health,” she said.

Though she did share the earlier news of having to leave with her students in January, Heckman said she wasn’t able to say a proper goodbye since her decision to retire.

“It hurt my heart that I don’t get to say goodbye to my kids,” she said.

In addition to the retirement, Heckman has moved away from Arroyo Seco and went to the Monterey Bay area earlier this month in order to be closer to the treatment center.

“I’m looking at a summer filled with treatments,” she said.

Heckman’s career has included teaching fourth-graders at Mary Chapa Academy, teaching sixth-graders at Vista Verde Middle School, trips to Point Sur, Point Lobos trips, mural painting, and field trips to the local missions.

“The truth is, even though there’s special events, the fact I got to drive down everyday and be with the kids has been my pleasure,” she said. “It’s my DNA to be a teacher. I might go back to the district and sub. I just have to get over the hill.”

After serving as a teacher for 29 years, Heckman said, “I thank the parents for their support and trusting their children with me and showing me the kindness and support through the years. That has meant quite a lot.”