Rusty DeVito

Former North Marion High Principal Rusty DeVito urges women to get checked often for breast cancer. She is shown here with her husband Edward whom she described as wonderful during her treatment.

FAIRMONT — If not for Rusty DeVito’s diligence, she might not be with us today.

“My maternal grandmother died of breast cancer, and there was a lot of breast cancer on my mom’s side,” DeVito said.

She started getting mammograms at the age of 35.

“I never miss them,” DeVito said. “I’ve had some scares before but they were cysts.”

DeVito had been the principal at North Marion High since 2010, and taught math and computer science there for 20 years. In between those two positions, DeVito spent seven years as assistant principal at Fairmont Senior High.

When she accepted the job as principal of North Marion, DeVito became the first woman to serve as principal of a high school in Marion County.

“I knew I would love being a principal,” she said. “I loved my job.”

Last November, during a regular breast self-exam, DeVito noticed something different.

“Something didn’t feel right to me,” she said. “It just felt different.”

But it had been only five months since her last mammogram. Despite her recent checkup, DeVito got another mammogram. Then she was sent to Betty Puskar Breast Care Center for an ultrasound.

“The radiologist, Dr. Barnett, wanted to do a biopsy. So I said, ‘Is there something there?’ And she said, ‘I’m just going to tell you I’m 99 percent sure it’s cancer.’”

“I had very aggressive cancer,” DeVito said. “It’s not genetic, and the only things you can do are surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.”

In just three weeks, that mass had grown two millimeters.

“My doctor, Dr. Hafez, said if I hadn’t found it, the way it was growing, it was the type of cancer that I would have been dead in a year.”

For six months, DeVito went through chemo treatments, all the while trying to hold onto a job she loved so much.

“I tried to do everything I could, but there were some days I was so sick,” DeVito said. “My friends would text and call. Students would send videos and tell me how they missed me. I loved what I did and I hated to retire, but I realized life’s really short.”

In July, DeVito retired.

“I didn’t feel I could put in the time.”

Throughout the grueling chemo treatments, DeVito’s husband, Edward, subscribed to the Hello Fresh food delivery service in hopes that he would find any food DeVito could tolerate.

“He was wonderful,” she said.

Her two daughters and son were also supportive throughout the ordeal.

“I tell everybody, check yourself, even if you don’t think you need to, even if you think it’s nothing,” DeVito said. “If I would have missed my mammogram that time and decided, I’ve been fine, another six months won’t hurt me, I would have been so wrong.”

Today, DeVito said she’s starting to feel a little better. She mentors other principals in Marion County, but “only a couple days a week.”

She and her husband plan to travel to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for an extended visit, something she would not have been able to do a year ago.

“You always hear it but it’s true, when you have your health, you have everything,” DeVito said. “God had a plan for me, and now I want to help others in any way I can. I really mean that. If people need someone to talk to, I want to help. I’ve been so blessed.”

To reach Lori Riley, email lriley@timeswv.com.

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