Atwater High teacher beats back cancer, writes book about it

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comAugust 5, 2013 

Atwater High teacher Maureen Hurley poses for a portrait in her Atwater home Wednesday. Hurley has written her second book, which chronicles her spiritual journey as she went though breast cancer treatment.

BEA AHBECK CASSON — Merced Sun-Star Buy Photo

It might have been painful and frightening at first, but Maureen "Mo" Hurley looks back positively now at her experience with breast cancer. It prompted her to write her second book as a Christian witness.

Hurley, 60, had 12 rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy. She's cancer-free now, ready to return to teaching senior English at Atwater High School this fall and write a third book.

"It (cancer) changed my life for the good," Hurley said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Cancer could kill me but it would never be stronger or bigger than God."

Her book, "Breast Cancer: My Spiritual Journey," came out about a month ago. She started writing the 122-page book in October when she learned she had Stage 3 cancer, with a lump and two malignant tumors. Her friends asked her what she was going to do about cancer, and writing the book was the answer.

Hurley said the self-published book is a celebration. She chronicled the biweekly chemotherapy treatments in Fresno, where she felt like she was in a hole for about four days, with symptoms such as the worst stomach flu possible, nausea and bone chills. Then she would feel great until the next round of treatments.

"I wanted to be very upbeat and positive," Hurley said. "I wanted to be worthwhile to people. From the first day I was diagnosed, my personal decision and goal was to do something nice for one person every day."

People might have thought she was in denial at first, Hurley said, but knew her Christian faith was real. She said some people might abandon their Christianity when hardship strikes but cancer strengthened her resolve.

"I was screaming in pain but thought I was going to get through this," Hurley said. "Pain won't last but your relationship with God does."

Hurley's close friend, Diane White of Modesto, said Hurley is hilarious, full of inspiration and the most uplifting person she has ever known. The two have been friends for 32 years, and both worked for Farmers Insurance.

"She makes light of any situation," White said. "She helps me find the positive. She's like a bright light. She helped me through dark times when I lost my mother. She's an ace in your pocket; she was there with faith and friendship."

Hurley said there is a 3 percent to 6 percent likelihood the cancer will come back but a very high chance of survival. Ironically she was diagnosed with breast cancer only 10 months after her last mammogram came back clear.

"The three things in my life are faith, family and friends, in that order," Hurley said. "I refused to do it by myself; I have had people with me and took them to doctors' offices and chemotherapy."

Ramona Horta-Riedeman has worked with Hurley for 22 years at Atwater High. She is a student serv-ices secretary and said she has been active in the American Cancer Society's "Relay for Life" in Merced and Atwater.

"Our friendship has taken on a new dimension," Horta-Riedeman said. "It has brought us closer. I have known her to be funny, happy and positive. She has many friends and we want to be there for her."

When Hurley's reactions to chemotherapy had abated, Horta-Riedeman would make Hurley's favorite food dish, fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Horta-Riedeman said Hurley's natural humor has gone from sarcasm to sincerity.

"She is genuinely concerned about other people because she loves Jesus," Horta-Riedeman said.

Hurley has planned a book signing Aug. 3 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hope Christian Stores in the Rite-Aid Shopping Center at Olive Avenue and North G Street in Merced.

"If someone has breast cancer, I want to give them a free book," Hurley said.

Hurley is a 1970 Atwater High School graduate who got her bachelor's degree in English in 1989 from California State University, Stanislaus, followed by a master's degree in education in 1996 from Chapman University.

Hurley, a member of the Atwater Church of God, said she became a Christian on Aug. 29, 1970, when a family friend witnessed to her. She said she uses humor to bless other people. In the past she has done stand-up comedy professionally in San Francisco and Chicago.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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