Amanda Cohen and her 13-year-old son Jacob. Courtesy of David Cohen

Hugging your child, noticing a sunrise, smiling at people walking by — as long as you remember to look around, there is something beautiful on the other side of darkness, Amanda Cohen said.

“You think there’s no way that there could be anything beautiful in something so dark,” said Cohen. “But what I found is that there is so much beauty, and in fact, it’s almost even more intensely beautiful when you’re walking through something as terrifying and as dark as what I’ve been through over the past five years.”

A Brunswick resident, mother and elementary school teacher, Cohen, 50, was first diagnosed with cancer in 2017.

Over the course of a five-year battle, she beat it twice.

On Jan. 5, Cohen received news that was, to put it mildly, difficult. The HER2-positive breast cancer — named for the protein that helps breast cancer cells grow quickly — had spread, and a 6.9-centimeter tumor was detected in the right hemisphere of her brain.

Doctors are now saying she has between seven months and one year to live.

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“I’m not going to be able to beat this one,” said Cohen. “This is the one that, you know, will stay with me until I die, and that’s that.”

Cohen is now going through full brain radiation, which will be followed by chemotherapy and other treatments to slow the disease progression. Her husband, David, as well as friends and a wide range of community members are supporting her through the process.

The most painful part of the diagnosis, Cohen said, have been the conversations with Jacob, her 13-year-old son with autism.

Amanda, Jacob and David Cohen. Courtesy of David Cohen

“As a mother, when you give birth to your child, they put him on your chest, and you carried him for nine months and put all of the love you have into this little precious being and I said to him when he was born, ‘I will always take care of you. Always.’ I said that to him when he was a baby. And now I know I will not be able to do that. And that has been the hardest, most painful thing to swallow,” said Cohen. “That is what absolutely breaks my heart.”

Prior to the diagnosis, Cohen taught art over the past year to children with social, emotional and behavioral challenges at Harriet Beecher Stowe elementary in Brunswick. Motivated by her son, she said she had finally found her calling.

“You can’t teach what Amanda has brought to these kids and what she’s brought in the classroom,” said Carmon Parker, a social, emotional and behavioral program teacher at Harriet Beecher Stowe. “Her understanding and empathy for what they’ve been through is just natural to her with how she works with them. Out of these four programs there is probably about fifty kids, and she’s gotten through to every single one of them.”

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Cohen taught grades three through five, or kids aged eight to 11, Parker said. The impact of her absence has been very noticeable, Parker said, and the children in the program are banding together to create an art project for Cohen.

On Thursday, Jan. 27, a community fundraiser will be held at the Bolos cantina and bowling alley in Brunswick from noon until closing, with all profits from the restaurant to be donated to the Cohen family.

“We’re just hit with grief, but we have to stand in strength and help her through this and really put a logical mindset on the plan for the future for her son,” said Brunswick resident and fundraiser coordinator Lauren Tirrell.

Tirrell, a close friend of Cohen who’s known her for 12 years, said that donations are already coming in and a silent auction, as well as a raffle, will also be held at Bolos on Thursday.

“It’s so palpable how loving this community is,” said Tirrell. “In a time where we have been so segregated and so, in some ways, divided, this has brought people together from all walks of life.”


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