It’s that time of year when the traffic makes us feel like we’re in Houston or San Antonio and the lines at the stores seem endless. We’re hustling and bustling as we try to pick out the perfect gift for each person on our list. Sometimes we just need to pause to make sure we don’t forget the greatest gifts of all.

For seven of my 14 years teaching at McAllen High School, I had the privilege of working with Diana Carcano, who taught English. I quickly learned that Diana taught her students much more than English. She taught them kindness and tolerance and “nevergiveupness.”

A few years ago, Diana started collecting blankets, hats, scarves, gloves, and socks for students at McHi who needed them. Then students started asking if they could take something for their siblings, or their parents who also needed them. So Diana expanded her outreach efforts to try to get more. And she did.

Diana learned about Infinite Love, a service organization in the Valley. When she heard about one of their missions—to “bring fresh food and warm company to the homeless at a local park (McAllen’s Municipal Park) every Tuesday and Friday evening”—Diana enlisted her students to get involved. Even some of her students’ parents joined in on their efforts, making sandwiches and bringing other items for the students to take with them as they shared food and love with homeless people in our community.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many students went to Diana each year to write letters of recommendation for college admissions (and for scholarships) for them. Everyone knows Diana has a way with words. Couple that with how well she knows her students, and you have letters that are pretty much guaranteed to get you in and to get you a scholarship. Regardless of how busy she is teaching, volunteering, and being an involved mother for her youngest son (her other two children are grown now), Diana always has time for whatever her students need.

A little over a month ago, one of our mutual friends called to tell me Diana was diagnosed with cancer. I was stunned, and sad. Shortly after I learned of her diagnosis, I went to McHi for a boys’ basketball fundraiser, and there Diana was, volunteering. I had a chance to really talk to her. She told me she has gastric lymphoma. Diana will undergo treatment at MD Anderson for about seven months, but she is making trips back and forth because her son is still in high school, and he is her priority.

Diana recently made the decision to retire earlier than she had planned, but, thankfully, she was eligible, and she made the decision to focus on healing.

When her son’s football coach at Vela in Edinburg, Mike Salinas, learned of Diana’s diagnosis, he had a talk with the players. The entire team, along with the coaches, came together to show their support for their teammate and his mom. They obviously understand the gift of love, and friendship, and support, and being a true team.

There is a group of “football moms,” too, who are reaching out to take care of a fellow mom and their sons’ teammate.

The McHi PTSO wanted to help Diana, too, so they hosted a luncheon for McHi teachers and staff to show their support for Diana. This was about parents and coworkers who want Diana to know they love her and are praying for her.

It’s Christmas/Hanukkah/holiday time, when people are often all wrapped up in buying gifts and making their own wish lists. But in the midst of it all, we see the greatest gifts of all—the gifts of hope, faith, friendship, and support. And it’s the wonderful gift of giving back to Diana what she has given to our community’s children for years, LOVE!

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma’s and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com.