Cassandra- the Music Teacher, Mom to Many, Cancer Survivor & Faith

My mother is an educator, an elementary music teacher. When I sit back and observe her I see a woman that embodies forgiveness and kindness. I went to high school with many of the students she taught and the word “kind” always popped up when they would talk about her. As a child, if I saw that mom wasn’t being treated right by someone I would get so angry and ask her to never associate with that person again – to try and protect her- but she always exhibited forgiveness and respect towards others, which has helped me in my adulthood to do the same to the best of my ability.

And though she’s not perfect I would never trade her for another mother. Other than dad I’ve never met someone that lives out 70 x 7 forgiveness, or that will give you the shirt off her back if she had to.

She raised me with a firm hand but with love. It’s also great and interesting to get advice from mom these days, as she has another level of wisdom in her voice that she’s picked up these past few years.

Anyways, this is an elementary music teacher & my mother in her own voice:

Seele Magazine: What did you want to be as a child?

Cassandra Portee: As long as I can remember I wanted to be a nurse.  I did not like to see people sick, and my dad had his first stroke when I was five years old.  My mother worked in the hospital as a nurse assistant.  Daddy was not in good health throughout my childhood, and my sister and I helped mama take care of him.  When daddy died in 1972, my dream was still to become a nurse because I wanted to help people get well.  Becoming a teacher was the furthest thing from my mind.  It was during my junior year in high school that I changed my mind to become a music teacher.  I thought about the years I had taken piano lessons (started at age 5), and the sacrifices my mother made for my sister and I to get piano lessons.  I had a great love for children, and I realized I could accomplish two goals---share my love and knowledge of music with children, and be a positive role model for children.

What I have tried to instill in my students over the years is love and respect. As a teacher you wear many hats—-counselor, psychologist, nurse, mediator, and mother. When I am handling various situations involving my students, I say a silent prayer that the Lord will give me the words to say and let my actions and behavior reflect a positive image.

SM: Why do you think that so many people in your community love you- students, teachers, and parents?

CP: I have taught one or both parents of the students I am presently teaching.  I have never shown favoritism in the 30+ years in education.  I have been fortunate to teach children from diverse backgrounds (extreme poverty, low-income, middle class, upper class, and affluent).  Children know when you really care about them, and you cannot fool them.  I realize some of my students are living in very difficult circumstances at home.  Sometimes the school is their “safe haven” and I do my best to show them love and for them to feel loved.  When my students hurt, I hurt. When my students are sad, I am sad.  When my students cry, I cry.  I try to always be one way (treating everybody the same).

With the hundreds of students I have taught for 30+ years, I always let them know I am in their corner cheering and rooting for them because I want ALL of them to attain success. I have told my students over the years that if they do not remember what a quarter note means, or name a dynamic term, or remember music concepts they have learned, but they learned how to treat others with love and respect, then I would have done my job successfully, and I know they will attain greater things in life.

SM: How old were you when you were diagnosed with cancer, what did it do for your faith, how did you cope?

CP: I was 24 years old.

When I got the news I had cancer I was devastated. At the time I got the news I felt God was very far away. I felt HE had forsaken me, and HE did not care. I wondered what I had done that was so bad that God was punishing me for. I cried and I cried. The surgeon, Dr. Yousef had the oncologist, Dr. Butler, read the report to make sure he was doing the right thing by taking me back to surgery.

The next morning a nurse was running water in the wash basin for me. I felt so alone and I felt God had abandoned me. The nurse asked me a question and the tears flowed and I could not stop crying. The nurse sat on the side of the bed and she told me there is Someone above who knew this day would come. She went on to say this did not catch HIM by surprise. She said HE was there and that HE lived in me, and if HE did not think I could carry this load, HE never would have put this burden on me. She told me to trust HIM, and always remember HE is taking care of me.

I had always had compassion for the sick. I took care of my dad before he died. Now, I was on the other end as the patient. I felt I was given a death sentence. Here I was only 24 years old and I felt I was going to die. I thought I am going to die before I have a chance to begin to live.

Looking back on this time in my life I can see how God's hand was in this. HE allowed me to have this experience so I can share HIS FAITHFULNESS with others. HE knew HE had plans for me, people for me to meet and be in my life, even if it's for a season. HE knew the job HE had in place for me to teach for 30+ years, and HE knew my daughter was going to be born. I am aware I make more than my share of mistakes, but I know GOD meets me where I am at. I can just be me when I approach HIM.  I am very happy I had Scriptures to rely on for comfort. I am happy I knew how to pray. I would think of words to hymns that comforted me. I do not know what I would have done or made it through that time without knowing the love and guidance of my Heavenly Father. What HE did for me then, I have no doubt HE will be with me for my next life challenge. I know this because in HIS WORD HE says HE will never leave us or forsake us. HE IS FAITHFUL.  I love the phrase where you can tell the Father, "There is nothing that will happen to me today that YOU and I cannot handle together.”

SM: If you had to sum up life in 2 sentences what would they be?

CP:

  1. Always depend on the Heavenly Father with every area of your life.
  2. You do not demand respect, you earn it.

SM: What would you tell your 16 year old self?

CP: What I would tell my 16-year-old self is let God be in complete control of your life.  Remember there will be others who will want to follow in your footsteps.  Listen more and talk less.  Never judge a person on what you see on the outside.  The outside is a façade.  Remember, what is on the inside of you will eventually come out, and that is when people will learn who you truly are.  Always keep the promises you made because you may have to return to the same person for help.  Never forget you are worthy because God thought enough of me, and others to send HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON to die for our sins.

SM: What comes to mind when you hear the name Jesus?

CP: My Redeemer and Blessed Savior.