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Covert Elementary community rallies around cancer survivor

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Heather Dee, of South Hempstead, was cancer-free for 10 years. Then, in June, the mother of two received the news: Her breast cancer had returned. On Sept. 27, Dee had a double bilateral mastectomy, and she is now recovering from surgery. To get her through the recovery, the William S. Covert Elementary School community is pitching in.

“Everyone has been so supportive,” Dee said, “and I just can’t thank them enough.”

When Dee received her diagnosis, she spoke with parents at Covert, where her sons Carter and Wyatt attend school, and the news spread. PTA Co-president Heather Teta said she first saw a post by Dee on social media about the surgery, shortly before the semester began.

“She’s such a lovely person and so inspiring,” Teta said. “I really love her approach to her challenge — she’s so open about her story.”

She immediately reached out to see how she could help.

“The thing she said she was most worried about was being able to cook for her family after the surgery, as you’re not allowed to do a lot of heavy lifting,” Teta said.

She and PTA Co-president Erica Messier liked the idea of Meal Train, a website that allows people to organize meal delivery to others at no cost. Through the site, participants have access to an interactive calendar, and select the date they want to contribute a meal. Food preferences can be set, including dietary restrictions, allergies and favorite restaurants or types of food. Teta and Messier asked Dee what she thought, and re-ceived approval from Principal Darren Raymar. They set up the site and sent the link to parents and staff at Covert.

“Within less than two days, the entire eight weeks was filled up,” Teta said. “When someone is sick like this, people want to physically do something . . . they want to help, but don’t want to impose.”

Now the Dee family has dinner delivered daily, through Nov. 22, and people have also donated gift cards. On the day of the surgery, Dee received get-well cards from Carter’s second-grade class, and both second-grade classes donned wristbands in support of breast cancer awareness, posing for a photo she received en route to the hospital. Just days after the surgery, she was pain-free and only a little tired. Her husband and sons are helping out, and thankful to have her home so quickly.

“My oldest took it hard at first, but was relieved that I came home the same day, as promised,” Dee said. “I am really blessed.”

Raymar said he believes Dee would step in if the role were reversed. “She’d be the first do something for someone else in need,” Raymar said.

According to Teta, supporting a community member in need is not a rare thing for Rockville Centre. “Covert is a very close-knit and supportive community,” Teta said, “and it’s not unusual for Rockville Centre or for the Covert community to rally. You see the best part of the community at times like this. It’s the way the community is, and it’s wonderful.”

Raymar agreed that this is not an “atypical story.” “Unfortunately, we’ve done this many times before, for staff and for parents,” he said. “Everybody knows someone who has been touched by breast cancer, and when we hear a story like this, people immediately jump into action. Covert is very community driven — we take care of each other here.”