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Community rallies around Toronto teacher, raises thousands of dollars to make home accessible

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TORONTO -

Toronto teacher Karyn Bugelli recently found out that she was cancer-free. However, the news came at a cost.

Bugelli has worked as a teacher and counsellor at Malvern Collegiate Institute in the city’s east end for the last fifteen years.

After enduring months of back pain, beginning in October, Bugelli knew something was awry.

“It started with average back pain that I felt when I was trying to lift something or move quickly,” Bugelli told CTV News Toronto Friday.

After trying appointments with chiropractors, physiotherapists, and acupuncture, she still wasn’t getting any relief from the pain. It would be nearly four more months until Bugelli’s doctors told her that she had a tumour on her T-12 vertebrae.

She was officially diagnosed with a rare form of cancer — osteosarcoma — at Micheal Garron Hospital in Toronto in February.

At first, Bugelli was set up on a strict chemotherapy regimen, but after developing a severe infection that landed her in the hospital once again, it was decided that surgery was the best option.

“Basically, I needed a huge operation that could take out the tumour within healthy margins and rebuild my back,” she said.

As a result of the operation, Bugelli’s spinal cord had to be severed and she now requires a wheelchair in order to be mobile.

“It's obviously not the decision we wanted to have to make, but ... for me, it wasn't really a decision because of my family,” she said.

“Do I want to be alive with my kids and give up my legs, or do I want maybe another two or three or four or five years of walking? It was never a choice.”

The operation was deemed successful and Bugelli is now cancer-free. However, renovations to her home are needed in order to allow for mobility and independence.

“Our plan is that we're digging out the basement so that it is livable space. Of course, we've got to modify the kitchen a little bit better for us. We have to redo the bathroom because … you know, there's no way I'd ever fit and be able to do everything,” she said.

“We're gonna make this work. I will find a way.”

That's when Bugelli's community rallied around her and ensured some stability.

A GoFundMe started to help Bugelli and her family cover the costs of the necessary renovations has amassed just under $50,000.

She says the support has been “overwhelming.”

“From the second we found out, the street that we live on reached out and put together a meal plan for us. They dropped off meals twice a week,” she said.

“People signed up to bring us food, which was so helpful because I had so many appointments. The neighbours are taking our dog out for good runs, so that’s one less thing we have to worry about.”

Although Malvern Collegiate Institute is a "very old school," Toronto District School Board says they are doing what they can to ensure it is accesible for Bugelli upon her return.

The whole experience has changed Bugelli’s outlook on life, she says.

“It certainly wakens you to how short life can be and how random it really is," she said.

"My school and the community has been wonderful."

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