'Ellen' pays tribute to MN kindergarten teacher battling cancer

Kelly Klein continues to teach kindergarten via Zoom while at her chemotherapy treatments.
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A Falcon Heights kindergarten teacher who is battling cancer for the second time got a surprise from Ellen DeGeneres when she appeared on Ellen Tuesday

Kelly Klein has taught at Falcon Heights Elementary School for more than 30 years, and even during her second battle with cancer, she continues to teach kindergarteners over Zoom while she's at the hospital for her chemotherapy treatments. 

She told DeGeneres all about it, and DeGeneres surprised her at the end of the 8-minute segment: 

Five years ago, Klein was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer, and on the five-year anniversary she found out the ovarian cancer had returned. Her oncologist gave her 10 to 15 years to live.

"It's been devastating to my family and, you know, I try to make every day that I have special," she told DeGeneres. 

Klein has continued to teach through this cancer diagnosis, telling DeGeneres the first time she was diagnosed she had to take a leave because she was "so filled with tumors and so sick." 

She called teaching the "love of her life," saying she begged her principal so she wouldn't have to take a leave this year and her district granted her the distance teaching position for kindergarten.

"I thought, I can do this," she told DeGeneres. "I go to the hospital and it's kind of a depressing place ... I just thought I want to make the most of my time while I'm there. And what better way than to spend four or five hours than with 5 year olds?"

DeGeneres asked Klein how she has the energy to teach a bunch of young kids, and Klein responded by throwing her hands in the air and saying she gets a chemotherapy high. 

"Ellen, I'm like ready to party when I'm at the hospital," she said of her chemo treatments, noting it happened to her the first time too. "So I schelp all my teacher bags, my science experiments, my math lessons, my literacy lessons, and I line them all up on this window sill ... there's no better way to pass the time in such a depressing environment than to be with kids."

When she logs on to be with her class it's the "best medicine" for her, Klein said. "I forget that I have cancer when I see those smiling faces."

Klein told DeGeneres her students know she's at the hospital because they can see the IVs and nurses in the background and they talk about how she's there to make her feel better. 

Parents and the Falcon Heights community have been supportive of her and "wrapped their arms around me," she said. "We're both doing each other a favor – the kids are helping me as much as I'm helping them." 

Klein told DeGeneres she's always loved kids and knew from the beginning that she wanted to a teacher, and be "that teacher" who makes a difference in a child's life. 

Klein said word has spread that she has cancer, and she's hearing from students she had 20-30 years ago who are telling her she was "that teacher" who made an impact on them.

"I'm finding out that I made a difference," Klein said. 

"You're a very special woman, so of course you're that teacher," DeGeneres said. After a commercial break, Degeneres said they tracked down some of her current and former students and put together a video for Klein. 

While watching the video of her students praising her and sharing the impact she made on their lives, Klein wiped away tears.

"Well that's gotta make you feel good," DeGeneres told her. "I mean, talk about making the most of your life. You are making a difference in so many people's lives, which I think is all any of us want to do while we're here."

DeGeneres then said she was helping Klein check things off her bucket list, announcing Shutterfly donated $10,000 so her family can go on a dream surfing vacation once the pandemic is over. Shutterfly also donated $10,000 toward her medical bills. 

Klein said she was speechless, adding "that never happens."

"You're a wonderful woman," DeGeneres told Klein. "Thank you for what you do."

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