By Evan Nemec
ABILENE, Texas — Teaching second graders isn't where Carla Jander Kelley thought life would take her.
But after 20 years at Clyde Elementary School, and 25 total in the classroom, she saw it as a worthwhile experience.
"I always enjoyed it. It was a good job," said Jander Kelley.
She attended Hardin-Simmons with the idea of majoring in business. But a severe illness during her sophomore year allowed her to reevaluate her career choice.
The unpredictability of wrangling 7- and 8-year-olds was her favorite part.
"There's no two days alike. You can do lesson plans, but it winds up being different every time."
While it was sickness that led her into the classroom, it was another illness that forced her out.
About 15 years ago Jander Kelley was diagnosed with Huntington's Disease (HD), a rare, neurodegenerative disorder that has no cure.
"I got where I was having trouble standing for a long time. Bending over was beginning to be a problem. I had stumbled and fell at school a few times, which was unusual for me."
She was forced to retire from teaching, and take disability.
Symptoms of HD vary widely from person to person, but usually start appearing between the ages of 30 and 50 and can include involuntary movements, loss of motor and cognitive abilities, and personality changes.
These usually get worse over time until HD patients can not take care of themselves, and can die from other complications.
"In 2010, they told me my life expectancy was 7 years. So I've surpassed that. I feel fortunate."
HD is a genetic disorder passed down from generation to generation. Each child who has one parent with HD has a 50-50 chance of later developing the disease themselves.
Jander Kelley is now 60 years old. She is unable to do daily tasks like cooking or cleaning, and the hobbies she used to enjoy are now not feasible.
"I might cry, but I don't like people fussing over me, and having to do things for me. It's hard.
"You worry that you're going to the point where you can't physically take care of yourself and that's kind of scary."
May is Huntington's Disease Awareness Month. Jander Kelley wants more people to learn about HD, and holds out hope there will be a cure someday.
"When I first got diagnosed it bothered me a lot, and to talk about it bothered me," she said.
"Now, I try to take each day as it comes, and try to enjoy the moment and what I can -- like spend time with my family, traveling, eating out -- whatever I can enjoy, and try to appreciate that. That's pretty much the best you can do."