Teacher, coach recovering from leukemia paying it forward

MILWAUKEE -- One moment, Tony Navarre was a healthy local high school teacher and coach. The next, his life hung in the balance, after Navarre was diagnosed with leukemia. Now, Tony and his wife are trying to make a difference for others facing adversity.

Tony and Molly Navarre feel blessed - they have a great marriage and a beautiful 21-month-old daughter, Adeline. Now, more than ever, they're just thankful that Tony's still alive, after he was diagnosed with leukemia one year ago.

"Complete shock. It didn't really hit me, to be honest. In fact, I was like 'oh, are you going to go to work tomorrow?' I didn't get it. I didn't get it at all, because we had known people with leukemia - a different kind of leukemia, who work and take pills because it is chronic, and it is a little bit different. When we got to the hospital and they said it would be about a three-week stay, if things went well, I thought 'oh my gosh, three weeks?' Well, three weeks would have been a blessing," Molly Navarre said.

"I started chemo and got real sick. My lungs were really, heavily infected, and I went into a coma about seven days later, and it ended up lasting 24 days," Tony Navarre said.

Tony's ordeal was far from over. "Four major surgeries, five different chemos, 10 chest tubes, and numerous bone marrow biopsies," Tony Navarre said.

All the while, Molly was by Tony's side, a pillar of strength and a beacon of light, but at times, there was darkness. "I guess there were moments in the hospital where I didn't think he would make it, and he'll never know what that felt like, and I'll never know what it has been like to be in his shoes. It was a roller coaster," Molly Navarre said.

The Navarre's were fortunate to find a donor for a bone marrow transplant last December 3rd. On that day, little Adeline suffered a seizure. Somehow, the family made it through, with more than a little help from their friends. "Most people, even those that haven't had a connection to Mr. Navarre have been able to rally together to support him," one Homestead student said.

Tony and Molly teach special education at Mequon's Homestead High School. Tony is also a coach. In the fall, students came together for "Operation Wish Lantern" to help defray the family's medical costs.

Last month, Homestead and Germantown High School teamed up to raised funds around a boys basketball game. "This type of event, I think, resonates with everybody. We've all known somebody who's had a time in their life where they needed a community to support them," Homestead football coach Dave Keel said.

"The Mequon-Thiensville community has been incredible. We get notes and letters from people thinking about us and praying for us all the way from Rhode Island, California, Uganda, and everywhere in between. I would get a message from a student 'hurry up and get healthy - you have to help me out.' Reading those things, you never feel like you want a justification for teaching, but that is so satisfying and gives you  hope and makes you want to continue," Tony Navarre said.

Through it all, the young couple has gained a healthy perspective on life. "There's a whole new appreciation for the little things. That said, some of the little things don't matter as much anymore - the little things that we used to bicker about. Not to say that we don't bicker anymore, but it just puts life in perspective and every moment is precious," Molly Navarre said.

"Live is a challenge, but every day is another day," Tony Navarre said. That's part of the young couple's message to those going through adversity of any kind. The ordeal has given Tony and Molly Navarre a mission to pay it forward. "Look for the little victories every single day. If something really good has come out of this, it's that we are meant to be advocates and bring awareness to cancer and making people aware of the registries and different supports that are out there to get you through those difficult times," Molly Navarre said.

CLICK HERE for more information on Wisconsin's Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

CLICK HERE to read more about Tony Navarre's journey via his blog.