In August of this year, Kerri Mascareno of New Mexico was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Since her diagnosis, Ms. Mascareno has been doing everything she can to survive. Part of her treatment includes taking chemotherapy pills in order to shrink the tumor in hopes that it can be surgically removed. The side effects include an unpleasant body odor that can be overwhelming. Still, it’s a small price to pay in order to give her what she most desperately needs – time.
Her priority is to spend as much time as possible with her three daughters.
Through her fear of not being able to watch her daughters grow up and live their lives, Ms. Mascareno goes on about her life as a mother, including visiting at her daughter’s elementary school. A couple of weeks ago, she met with the school principal, Robert Abney, to talk about her daughter. Abney expressed sympathy for her situation, sharing that his own mother had breast cancer. He then told her that she was no longer allowed to visit her daughter at school – because she smelled.
Even when offering to stand outside, he claimed that he could smell her through the window and the smell was making everyone feel ill. When she drops her daughter off and picks her up, she is to stay in the parking lot area. She was told not to enter the building.
To make matters worse, he said that she could not attend the school’s Thanksgiving celebration with her daughter. After media attention, the principal sent an email the evening prior to the luncheon saying she could attend – but that they would have to eat in his office, away from the rest of the students, their families and faculty who would be eating in the cafeteria.
In a response to the Huffington Post via phone, Monica Armenta, executive director of communications for Albuquerque Public Schools, denied that Ms. Mascareno was banned from the school or not allowed to join her daughter for the school’s luncheon. She did admit, however, that Abney wrote an email suggesting that “[the school] could make accommodations for her to have [Thanksgiving] lunch with her daughter in a location other than the cafeteria,” — if Ms. Mascareno wanted to do so.
When Tierra Antigua Elementary had their Thanksgiving luncheon, Ms. Mascareno and her daughter were not there. Saddened by the principal’s comments, she decided to spend the day at home with her daughter. She admitted she was “really hurt by what happened and just doesn’t want to be around that negativity.”
The principal remained unapologetic. When asked by reporters if he wanted to say sorry for saying anything, Abney responded, “Nope. You need to talk to Monica or Rigo.”
There was no public apology from the school district, either, with spokesperson Monica Armenta insisting that “there’s not anyone [sic] I can say that’s going to make anyone feel better in this situation because it’s heartbreaking, and any attempt to explain the issue would appear insensitive.”
This Thanksgiving, Kerri Mascareno plans to have dinner with her children, cherishing the moments they have together. She is very aware this could be her last one with them. As she says, “It’s precious. Every little time is precious being with them.”
Photo credit: KOB 4 Eyewitness News - Albuquerque, NM, interview with Kerri Mascareno