Buoyed by the support of her students, coworkers and community, Ridgeview Junior High Principal Susan Caudill last week said she's determined to beat breast cancer and return to work this school year.
Ten days after a double mastectomy, Ridgeview's top Tiger said Nov. 14 that despite surgery and impending chemotherapy that's keeping her from the school, her spirits are high and she was feeling well.
"I'm going great," Caudill said via telephone from her home.
"The day I got home I started walking on the treadmill and I'm up to four miles a day.
"There's not a doubt in my mind," she said.
"It's all good. It messed with the wrong person."
Caudill's optimism belied her recent breast cancer diagnosis and surgery, as well as the prospect of four months of chemotherapy followed by 10 years of maintenance treatment.
A positive attitude is something the 42-year-old principal said she maintains as a matter of practice, but she couldn't help but be heartened by an unexpected outpouring from her Ridgeview family, which quickly was joined by peers throughout the Pickerington Local School District and the community at-large.
Nov. 1, her last day at work prior to surgery, Caudill was greeted by approximately 580 Ridgeview students and another 80 staff members sporting black T-shirts emblazoned in a pink statement of solidarity:
The coordinated send off was organized by Wendy Poston, a special education teacher at Ridgeview.
"Initially, I just ordered 80 for the staff," Poston said.
"Then the kids heard about it and they said they wanted them, too," she said.
"I would definitely say it went viral. That's how important she is to her kids and the staff."
The shirts now are en vogue throughout the district, as teachers, staff and administrators from other school buildings and the district office have snapped them up.
The sentiment picked up Caudill by pulling at her heart strings.
"I had heard some of the staff would be wearing them, but when I walked in I had no idea all my students were doing it," Caudill said.
"I had no idea all of the staff was doing it.
"I was choked up when I walked in," she said.
"It was the most overwhelming feeling of support. I love Ridgeview."
Caudill begins chemotherapy treatments next month.
How she responds to those treatments will determine when she returns to work, but she's targeted May for her cancer "after party."
When she returns, Caudill plans to wear scarves to compensate for the expected loss of hair that often results from treatment.
Wigs, she said, just aren't her style.
In the meantime, the Ridgeview Parent Teacher Organization recently purchased pink "Team Caudill" bracelets that are being sold in the school's main office, with proceeds going to Caudill.
That effort, in addition to unsolicited contributions made by community members, has provided Caudill with financial support to offset a portion of mounting medical bills.
Inspired, she said she intended to donate $500 to an assistance program at the OhioHealth Bing Cancer Center in Columbus for breast cancer patients who can't afford medical services.
"I have insurance and I'm shocked at how expensive this is," she said.
In agreeing to be interviewed, Caudill said she wanted to thank everyone who has reached out to her, be it through T-shirts, financial generosity, Facebook messages or scores of other gestures.
She further urged adult women and others to undergo regular cancer screenings because early detection can save lives, and she preached the virtues of positive thinking.
"Don't be pessimistic," Caudill said.
"(Before I left) I wanted my kids to know that no matter what you face in life, you need to face it with a positive attitude and courage."