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From Classroom to Caregiver: Teacher and Student Share Special Bond

Read Time: 3 minutes

Kelly and Cordelia at SportsFest; Cordelia is wearing oxygen tubes and making a peace sign with her hand
Kelly Moynahan and Cordelia Schaffer

Sometimes, life works in mysterious ways. Teachers become students and in this case, the student becomes a caregiver for the teacher. That’s the unique relationship shared by Cordelia Schaffer and Kelly Moynahan.

Kelly had worked in public relations for the Huntsman Corporation during the first phase of construction at Huntsman Cancer Institute in the late 1990s. But, she wanted to have more of a personal impact. “I had a science background, so it felt natural to go back to school and try to become a nurse.”

She first met Cordelia in 2007. As an instructor at Westminster College, Cordelia helped schedule rounds for Kelly and keep her calendar organized.

“I was a clinical instructor for community nursing and I remember Kelly because she did an assignment on Olympic ice skaters,” Cordelia says. “It was a community study and for some reason, it stuck with me.”

Kelly graduated in 2010 and the two stayed in touch via social media. Then in 2021, Kelly noticed a familiar name on her list of new patients. “When I saw ‘Cordelia,’ my heart sank. She has a very rare name, so I figured it was her.”

Cordelia had been having trouble breathing around February 2021 and it continued to worsen. After visiting an interventional radiologist in September, she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. “She was pretty sick the first time she came in,” Kelly says.

“I’ve actually been lucky,” says Cordelia. “My care at Huntsman Cancer Institute has been so coordinated since my first chest x-ray. I get answers right away. The communication is always responsive. Kelly helps me with my paperwork and is someone I can check in with. She has all the qualities you’d want in a nurse. She’s supportive while maintaining boundaries, which is an undervalued trait. You don’t want to have too many people involved.”

One day, Cordelia noticed a poster hanging in her exam room. “It was for Huntsman SportsFest and I like to do stuff like that. I ran two half marathons and loved being active.” 

“I thought [SportsFest] was a good opportunity to raise money for cancer research...I’m an over-committer. It’s who I am.”

—Cordelia Schaffer

Cordelia waving at the camera while participating in SportsFest

“Dr. Akerley [Wallace Akerley, MD] tries to get everyone involved in SportsFest,” Kelly adds. “There were a few patients who wanted to do it, and Cordelia was one of them.”

“For six months, I couldn’t do anything,” Cordelia says. “I just relented to the fact I was going to need oxygen, and that was frustrating. It was difficult to face bad news and stay positive, but my lung cancer support group and talking to other people at the Wellness Center was important.”

So together, Kelly and Cordelia participated in Huntsman SportsFest during the spring of 2023. “I like being able to interact with my care team outside of the hospital and meet new people,” says Cordelia. “I also thought this was a good opportunity to raise money for cancer research.”

“We have so much in common. We always talk a lot about our families. She had just traveled to Costa Rica, which is where I got married, so we talked about that also,” says Kelly.

Cordelia is also helping advance cancer care and research by participating in a clinical trial at Huntsman Cancer Institute that involves a combination of oral targeted therapy and IV immunotherapy. “I’m an over-committer. It’s who I am. I worked in home health and hospice, off and on for 18 years, in addition to teaching for about 20 years.”

“There have been so many positive changes with lung cancer treatments,” Kelly notes. “It’s always evolving with science, and in Utah, you have a lot of non-smoking lung cancer patients, so we’re trying to figure out why. Both of us just want to provide hope to people in our different ways.”

Cordelia and Kelly taking a group photo with other SportsFest participants
Cordelia and Kelly (second and third from the left) with the lung cancer SportsFest team

Cancer touches all of us.