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Students return favor to Seattle educator battling terminal cancer

Joe Bland (KOMO)

SEATTLE -- Joe Bland was only two days into summer school when he received the worst news of his life. Doctors told him he has terminal stomach cancer, stage four. He likely has less than 5 years to live.

“It’s tough. Your mind thinks about a lot of things,” Bland said, fighting back tears. “Trying to live as long as possible.”

Two weeks later, the 55-year-old has little energy. He doesn’t move very far day to day, so he spends a lot of time reflecting on the past. Perhaps more than anything, he thinks of his students.

“I’m going to miss them,” he said. “I hope they miss me too.”

Bland is a proud Seattle educator. For 26 years he’s been the locker room attendant at Garfield High School – at least, that’s his official title. Students would say he does much more.

“A person a lot of people come to as a friend,” Britton Hayes, Garfield Class of 2014, said. “Everyone knows Joe.”

“He was uncle Joe, you know,” classmate Mariah Beverly added.

Joe served several roles at the school. He was a disciplinarian who helped run Saturday detention. He also joked with students and gave guidance to those in need. His portrait is painted outside the locker room, where he’ll be missed this Fall.

Joe says the greatest lesson he taught students was this: “you don’t have to do it by yourself,” Joe explained. “There’s help.”

Now the roles have reversed, and Joe is the one in need of a little help.

Bills pile up on medical leave. He’s also paying off the last of his daughter’s college tuition. So former students and their families have pitched in. They’ve raised thousands of dollars through a gofundme page (link below). That is love that inspired KOMO News.

Tuesday KOMO’s Problem Solvers gave an additional $7,000 to Joe and his family for expenses. Overcome by emotion, Joe repeated, “thank you, thank you.”

But clearly, Joe Bland is the one who deserves the thanks.

If you'd like to help, you can do so here.

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