St Hilda's Collegiate principal Melissa Bell is not short of support when she needs a helping hand. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
When it comes to inspiration to survive, St Hilda's
Collegiate principal Melissa Bell says you just can't beat
the support of your pupils.
''They gave me strength I didn't know I had.''
The 41-year-old was diagnosed with an aggressive form of
breast cancer in March.
After surgery, 12 rounds of chemotherapy and half her
radiation treatment, she returned to full-time work this
"It feels like coming home to my second family and I'm quite
excited about the rest of the year.''
The support she had received from pupils, staff and the
school community had been ''absolutely incredible'', she
''I've literally had hundreds of cards and a constant stream
of support - meals, baking. It's been quite overwhelming
''They've given me so much strength. In a situation like
this, you could feel quite alone, but through all of this, I
haven't felt alone at any time.
''The girls and staff have been a huge part of that.''
Members of the school's student council decided to show their
support earlier this year by running pink ribbon events at
They packaged ribbons and sold them to pupils, staff and the
public, to raise funds for the New Zealand Breast Cancer
Foundation. Ms Bell has turned adversity into an
inspirational life lesson for her pupils.
She has been a positive role model, sharing details of her
illness, treatment and emotions over the past eight months
because she wanted pupils to have the tools to deal with
breast cancer if they experienced it in later life.
However, being a role model was not something she had
planned, she said.
She was inspired to bring her illness into the public arena
after overhearing two women talking about her in a Dunedin
shop soon after she was diagnosed.
''They were saying I had had some tests done and I only had x
number of weeks left to live, which was news to me and it
couldn't have been further from the truth.
''People should think more carefully about what they say
because it does have implications.''
She still had two and a-half weeks of radiation therapy to
complete. ''The cancer was fairly well established when it
was found. So it's not known what the prognosis will be until
treatment has finished.
''But I'm feeling really positive about it.''