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When Pamela Davis Reece was a middle school student, leukemia kept her largely out of the classroom.
Too weak from chemotherapy to get to Carnage Middle, she kept up her studies with help from a single teacher: Cam Lopes. Lopes brought school to Reece’s bedside, even driving to Chapel Hill to visit her student in the hospital.
“She was really good with me about taking time and helping me understand things,” Reece recalled. “I probably had a better relationship with her than I had with other kids at that time. ... She’d even come just to visit, not necessarily just to work.”
Now Reece is 26; she’s been cancer-free for years and just got married. Inspired by the help she once received, she’s in her fourth year of teaching special education at Forest Pines Drive Elementary in North Raleigh.
A few months ago, Reece spotted a familiar face during a required teachers’ meeting at Wake’s central office in Cary. It was Lopes, who’s now a senior administrator overseeing special education for the school district. Both women did a double-take.
“I didn’t know she was still in Wake County,” Reece said. “I hadn’t seen her in years.”
For Lopes, it was one of those moments “every teacher dreams of,” she said. “It was just one of those feel good moments, knowing she had overcome a lot.”
Lopes said she’s not surprised her former student went to college and became a teacher. “She never let cancer get her down, and she always wanted to learn,” she said.
Reece said she had plenty of help getting past her illness. “I was just a hard worker,” she said. “I had a really supportive family and teachers like Cam with a determination to keep it positive for me.”
By high school, Reece knew she wanted to give back – either as a physical therapist, a chemotherapy nurse or a special ed teacher. Forest Pines assistant principal Holly Shaw said Reece’s personal experience in special education makes her a better teacher.
“I think she understands the struggles that the kids are going through,” Shaw said. “She also has a bit of knowledge about what the parent is going through.
“She just keeps calm with the children, even when it’s a ramped-up moment.”
Now that the two have reconnected and occasionally get together for lunch, Lopes can again be a mentor.
“I talk to Cam all the time,” Reece said. “It’s nice to know that there’s somebody out there who’s been in my shoes. It’s neat to know that I’m where she once was.”