AISB student Selin O. enjoys sitting on a pink bench in AISB’s central park. (Photo by Darya Y.)

Have you ever seen the pink bench around the AISB campus and wondered why it’s there? Have you noticed the inscription on its plaque?

AISB faculty created the pink bench in 2014 and dedicated it to Ms. Mary Power, a former elementary learning support teacher who passed away from cancer. The bench symbolizes the fight against breast cancer around the world, as well as how closely cancer hits home here at AISB.

Many people in AISB either have suffered from cancer or have been impacted by cancer, and some see it as a strength, presenting newfound perspectives on what matters in life.

Who is Mary Power?

Mary Power was known for being a devoted and kind Elementary Learning Support teacher who worked at AISB between the years of 2008 and 2014. Unfortunately, the beloved teacher passed away from breast cancer shortly after departing AISB. She was 68 years old.

Power is described by her former colleagues as having had an adventurous and vivid passion for stories and loving to share that with her students, often giving away books when she had to move classes. Her former colleagues described her as a kind lady who took the time to get to know each and every person she met. 

Her character was unique in the sense that she wasn’t afraid to speak her opinion and be herself. “She had a very British sense of humor,” says Alex Sota, the Athletics and Activities Director. “She was very witty, a very kind lady, always said hello to me.”

Mary Power. Source: AISB Yearbook Photo from 2011-2012

Mary was the first person who I ever knew that died of cancer. She was my friend and my colleague. She was super vivacious.

-PYP Coordinator Courtney Hughes

Power was originally from the UK, and taught at a variety of international schools but is remembered for talking about Egypt the most. Power didn’t have any children of her own but she connected with her students and had a passion for helping them. A former colleague of Power, who wishes to be anonymous, says, “I think her personality made her quite special and everyone was aware of her presence when she was in the room.” 

After Power took time off work to prioritise the process of chemotherapy, colleagues noted she came to work with a positive mood, as if it wasn’t affecting her. Many of her former colleagues said that they were surprised when Power’s cancer had come back stating they were convinced she would fight it off because of how much she persevered.  

On March 10, 2014, a video called “We are HAPPY at AISB!” was created by a couple of students at the time highlighting faculty and staff dancing to the song, “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams. This video still captures the last few seconds of the video in which Mary Power is waltzing to the music.

The same anonymous colleague says, “She did things her way. Instead of pretending she was part of the cool people and keeping up with the time she was just waltzing. That is the memory that will forever stay with me.”

A bench dedicated to Mary Power

In 2014, members of the AISB faculty painted a bench bright pink in the memory of Power as a reminder of her time at AISB. The bench serves as a symbol for not only Power herself, but for people around the world battling breast cancer, hence the pink color. Power fancied vibrant colors, especially pink, fitting with her outgoing personality, which is why this movable landmark stands out on the AISB’s school campus.

Pink Bench, displayed in AISB’s central Park. (Photo by Matei A.)

Based on a recent survey, more than 50% of AISB’s student and staff have never heard of Mary Power, but have recognized the bench around central park. 

Even if you don’t know who Power is, sources noted that the unique bench around campus is a great trigger to spark curiosity and remind you to pay attention to what surrounds you. While walking around campus students may find that noticing the bench can automatically make you wonder, “What’s this all about?” 

Margritha Hofman, a DP Physics teacher and Service Learning Coordinator, and Leah Bramley, a former drama teacher at AISB, built the bench and screwed the plaque on display on the front. 

They bought the bench and plaque from a do-it-yourself bench package from a shop that sold garden furniture, and painted the bench its signature bright pink color. Hofman says, “We wanted to have it in a central place, to enjoy life and remember Mary as well as raise awareness for breast cancer.”

How does AISB contribute to raising awareness?

The annual Terry Fox Run hosted on campus is an important way AISB contributes to spreading awareness and raising money for cancer

The AISB community has been hosting the Terry Fox Run for over 15 years and has often raised up to 10,000 euros each year for the Terry Fox Foundation.  

Terry Fox Run 2019. (Photo by: Altea M.)

PYP Coordinator Courtney Hughes, a cancer survivor, has been organizing a pre-walk before every Terry Fox Run for a couple years, aspiring to make it a tradition. She started this because she wanted to just go out and celebrate life and cancer survivors just like her. 

“Lots of people know cancer survivors, or are cancer survivors, or have been affected by cancer so I wanted to come out and walk and celebrate life,” Hughes says. The pink bench is featured at this event to celebrate her life and to recognize how lucky we are to be alive each and every day. 

In addition, a variety of service groups help raise awareness about cancer within our school and the wider community. For example, PAVEL comes together and helps kids who have cancer by engaging them in creative activities and games. The group goes to a hospital on Saturdays for two to three hours and also participates in fundraising activities. 

How has cancer impacted the AISB community?

Pink Ribbon Representing Breast Cancer. (Image source: Unsplash)

Cancer is all around the world, a concept that is well known as a heartfelt experience to go through. People are affected deeply by cancer, even in AISB, bringing them to remember that life is a gift and shouldn’t be taken for granted. 

An anonymous form was sent out to students and staff at AISB about their experiences with cancer. Here are some powerful confessions from some of the AISB community:

“I have supported many colleagues going through cancer treatment throughout my career.”

“Cancer has affected me badly because my aunt has cancer and she is struggling with it.” 

“One of my grandparents' friends recently died of cancer, which was terrible since she was such a joy to be around and I always loved talking to her. My grandad, although I didn't know him, died of cancer, and a couple of years ago I did a Race for Life dedicated to him.”

“I found the most compassionate, most amazing and wonderful doctors you could ever imagine here in Romania. I am confident that I wouldn’t have had better treatment anywhere else in the world.”

“My uncle has brain cancer and it’s sad because he might not be in my life anymore any second.”

“I know of friends and colleagues and family members who managed to conquer their cancer and who are still here, whom we celebrate and for whom we are grateful that they are still here. It gives hope to know that many do conquer their illness.”		

Out of 40 people who filled out the survey, more than 50% of the community, including staff, teachers, and students in Secondary have lost someone they knew to cancer or have known someone that has dealt with this. Numerous people from the survey are in fear of losing their loved ones, people they know, and getting diagnosed with it themselves. 

Those who haven’t experienced losing someone to cancer or have never known anyone going through that struggle are in a lucky position. An anonymous teacher notes, I think you read about cancer and you always think that it only can happen to people you don’t know, until it happens to people you do know and that’s when it’s really shocking.” 

Cancer is the fight that seemingly everyone must face in their lifetime.  Whoever fights brings their loved ones with them on the journey… Cancer changes the lives of the sick, as well as their ones in their surroundings. Some cancer can be beaten, and others not, and saying goodbye is the worst.

-Sean Whitney, Secondary Learning Support Teacher

Cancer around the world

The World Health Organization states that one of the main causes of human deaths around the globe is cancer, causing one in six deaths. The most common cancers resulting in deaths, as of 2020, include breast, lung, and colon cancers. 

Humanity has made tremendous advancements in cancer treatments over the last 50 years. According to an American Association for Cancer Research progress report, these treatments have reduced death rates for cancer by 31% from 1991 and 2018 (translating to 3.1 million lives improved). 

Cancer is a heavy topic that is often hard to open up about. An analysis on emotions towards cancer by the National Library of Medicine found that cancer brings the patient and their close family and friends mixed emotions, and can change one’s entire mental state.

The Bite wishes to thank all of the brave and open people who contributed to the survey and interviews that helped make this article possible. Mary Power will always be remembered as a dedicated educator and kind teacher with a passion for teaching and books, but also a great friend and colleague at AISB. As we say here at AISB, “Once a vampire, always a vampire!”

How has cancer affected your life? Write your thoughts in the comments below! And if you’re struggling, remember to do what is best for you… It can be better to talk to someone rather than keep it to yourself.