Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dillon Returns After Bout With Cancer

Cynthia Dillon supervises recess at Sunset Elementary School in Oak View after battling breast cancer

By Sondra Murphy
Sunset Elementary School in Oak View welcomed back its principal this week by literally rolling out the red carpet. Cynthia Dillon returned Monday after health issues kept her away since November.
“I’ve had a wonderful reception back,” said Dillon. “It makes me realize how much I’m loved.” Besides the red carpet treatment, Sunset PTA members filled Dillon’s office with fresh fruit, flowers, balloons and books.
Giving books to students is one of the projects Dillon was working on before being diagnosed with breast cancer and needing to take a medical leave. While the principal was tending to her health, parents began collecting gently used books for the project. “We had close to 100 books all sprawled out in her office for her to give to children,” said Sunset PTA President Kelley Hargett.
Welcoming back Dillon was important to the community who appreciates everything the principal has brought to the school during her four years at the helm. Dillon established a preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and this year the school extended the grade levels to include sixth, with a seventh grade option available to students next year and the strong possibility of eighth grade the following year.
Dillon was in training when she got her cancer diagnosis and believes this helped her a lot during treatment. “I was very fit before this all started. I’m a runner and was actually training for the L.A. Marathon,” she said. “I would go out there and run with the students at recess.”
Her treatment so far has included a mastectomy and chemotherapy, the latter of which she is still undergoing. “I have a couple more rounds until May, then radiation and reconstructive surgery,” she said. “I told the kids ‘This is a wig’ and they wanted me to take it off. I said ‘No, it’s too cold.’”
With her return, Dillon got right back into the business of Sunset by talking about the expansion to include seventh graders next year. “The spots are precious,” said Dillon of the openings for seventh grade students. “We’ll have about 33 spots, so parents need to contact us now if they want their children to enroll.” Because the school has about 320 students in its population, Dillon said that parents appreciate the small school environment it offers. “Students have a much more intimate relationship with the teachers and peers,” said Dillon.
Hargett agreed that having the seventh grade option is attractive to many parents. “I think our kids are subjected to so much, that to keep the environment healthy for them is very important,” said Hargett. She said the partnership Dillon helped foster between Sunset and the Boys and Girls Club Oak View Center has also been a benefit to the community.
During her time away from Sunset, Dillon’s interim principals often collected documents for her to peruse. “We did not make any major decision without consulting her first,” said Hargett. “The concerns that we’ve had are just the concern for anybody going through cancer treatment. We’ve been concerned for principal Dillon’s health, but not about the school.”
Dillon plans to work three days a week while she finishes her treatments and looks forward to again being able to attend school meetings and activities. “I have many, many strong and supportive friends and family and people from the school who have been in contact with me throughout,” she said. “It has been wonderful. It’s just great.”

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