Paper cranes give hope to teacher battling breast cancer


Photo by Isabel Richmond

Students in Cartier’s class pose with the paper cranes

Last May, OPRF Spanish teacher Kirsten Cartier was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) in her lymph nodes. At the time, Cartier was in remission for breast cancer she had in her thirties. “TNBC doesn’t react to hormones,” she said, “so typical cancer therapies and treatments don’t work.”

After hearing news of Cartier’s diagnosis, the OPRF world language department decided they needed to do something. Japanese teacher Sensei Yoko Schmadeke brought up the idea of making 1,000 paper cranes.

In Japanese tradition, 1000 paper cranes represent well wishes and good fortune. “We like celebrating culture. We just thought it was a beautiful idea,” Said Spanish teacher Kelly Diaz.

German teacher Liliana Boyce commended Cartier for her “bravery in being so open” about her diagnosis. “It allowed us to care for and support her,” she said.

“Breast cancer is a society issue. It affects women and moms and sisters and aunties and grandmas,” said Cartier. “Everybody will have to deal with this … in some way at some point in their life. There is no point, in my opinion, in trying to ignore it.” 

After deciding to make 1,000 paper cranes, teachers throughout the world language division met outdoors over the summer for a COVID-safe origami pot luck. “We would hang out in someone’s backyard and have like a little brunch while we made paper cranes,” said Diaz.

After realizing how long it would take to make 1000 cranes, the teachers decided to get students involved. “At one point we were like ‘oh my god, these take forever to make, we’ll never finish them,’ and that’s when we started getting help from our students,” said Diaz. 

Cartier’s long term sub, former OPRF Spanish teacher Barbara Harmon, taught Cartier’s class how to make the cranes and other world language teachers got their advisories involved. “What stood out to me was realizing that students who don’t even have her as a teacher are still touched by her story,” said Boyce.

With the help of students, from last summer to the beginning of February, the teachers were able to make over 1,000 cranes to string together. They presented them to Cartier in her classroom on Feb. 7, her first day back at school after surgery. “I’m not a crier, but I got teary when I walked in here. Cranes are just somehow so inspirational. I love(d) it,” she said.

“A lot of us have worked together for many years. We’re coworkers, but we’re also friends. We like to think of each other as the world language family and supporting each other is really important,” said Diaz.