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Fighting till the end

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In early 2012, Mr. Brian Massegee felt a severe pain in his side and this led him to an emergency room visit. What happened on that visit, turned his life around forever.

“I learned that the cancer had become ‘metastatic’ and spread to my liver, lung, spine, and pelvic bones,” he said. “At this point, I was given a life sentence of about a year.”

Mr. Massegee, Dean of Instruction, was first diagnosed with cancer in February 2011.

“A pulled tooth erupted into ‘adenoid cystic carcinoma of the sinuses’ which was dormant cancer cells under the tooth,” he said. “The entire left side of my face was removed from the bottom of my eye socket down through the top row of my teeth. This was all reconstructed with the bone and tissue from my right Fibula bone in my leg.”

The Fibula was completely removed and used as bone structure while the tissue was used to rebuild the face itself.

“The leg is still not completely healed,” he said. “That is why I now have a limp. That surgery was quite extensive and I was on life support for three days. Then I spent a week in ICU, then another week in a regular room. Two weeks later, I had to return because much of the tissue was dying and had to be removed.”

The next procedure was successful, and a few weeks later, Mr. Massegee began aggressive radiation and chemotherapy. This treatment went on for seven weeks.

“I was very sick and lost over 120 pounds,” he said. “Upon its completion, I was told that the cancer in my face was gone and have since had two more surgeries to help repair the damage. These surgeries have resulted in only minimal improvements because of the stubbornness of the leg tissue.”

On Thanksgiving Day in 2011, Mr. Massegee’s mother passed away. Though this was tragic, he was ready to start fresh in 2012.

“I was ready to dive into my work and complete my PhD,” he said. “That is, until I received my death sentence.”

Now, Mr. Massegee’s focus has changed.

“My new mission is to complete my book and to spend time with my dog on a few road trips,” he said. “My emotions and feelings throughout this experience have been very much on a roller coaster ride and I have to say that I’ve experienced every emotion possible. My job has always kept me grounded and the students who respond to my assistance have been the ones to make me want to go another day. It has always been my passion to help students who need me most, watch them turn things around, and watch them experience new success so that they can continue on independently.”

Associate Principal Mrs. Renee Koontz, who set up a spaghetti dinner benefit event for Mr. Massegee, wanted to help in his time of need.

“We all know someone who’s been touched by cancer, and the ability to help someone is important,” she said. “Brian’s been important to the Bronco family, and we just want to support him.”

According to both Mr. Massegee and the numbers, she has succeeded. The event raised over $11,000.

“I am completely overwhelmed by the benefit by the school,” he said. “It has brought together so many different aspects of my life and I don’t know that I could ever express the gratitude that I have for how much this will help me—but most of all how appreciated this makes me feel. I am hearing from students I have not seen in over 7 or more years and I am seeing a respect and appreciation from young people that everyone should witness. It is amazing.”

It’s times like this when he questions why people think each successive generation of students is worse than the last.

“Kids are going to be kids no matter when they are born,” he said. “People are going to be human when they are most in need. This is absolutely amazing to me to see what wonderful young adults all of these kids are becoming. There’s nothing wrong with our kids today.”

Massegee feels completely at ease with life and the decisions he has made.

“There is really nothing I would do differently, and this is the honest truth,” he said. “Believe me, I have thought a lot about it. I did a job I absolutely loved and was even considering moving back into the classroom up until my final ‘death sentence.’ There is nothing in the world quite like teaching and how good it makes me feel to watch the transformation of a student as they learn new things.”

It becomes even more rewarding if those students were labeled as at risk or a problem.

“These are always my favorite because they are just screaming for some real learning—they just don’t know it yet,” he said. “They need a teacher who gets them and who is willing to take on that challenge with a genuine (not routine) effort. The kids always know if we care, no matter how much we try to pretend in some cases. I just want to be remembered as an educator who truly wanted to make a difference. I have always had the personality of someone who has to save everyone. I know this is unrealistic in a sense, but it is who I am and what I instilled in my job. I always believed there wasn’t a student I couldn’t turn around.”

The students that end up going in a wrong direction are the ones that Massegee is most passionate about, but he can’t always change them.

“I tend to remember those more than the successes because I feel like I have done something wrong,” he said. “I have used those experiences to improve upon my personal skills and it has only led to helping others.”

This doesn’t mean he quits; just that he learns from the experience and takes that knowledge into the next challenge.

“It is about never giving up and accepting the fact that we cannot always succeed,” Massegee said. “Teenagers have to learn this before they leave high school or the world will eat them up. There is so much potential walking those hallways and every single experience is molding them into what they will be in their adult lives. It is so easy to fix these things when in high school, but not so easy after. I just wish they would gain a feeling of urgency so that when their four years of high school end, they are prepared for what will hit them without mercy.”


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Student News Site of Denton High School in Denton, Texas