Teaching with Cancer…

Note: Before you get all righteous and up in arms about Olin making me go back to teaching while I’m still undergoing chemotherapy, please know that this was entirely my decision. After a lot of thought and reflection, I decided that the most meaningful way I can spend my time these days is by trying to have a positive impact on students’ lives.

Chemo and the classroom

Last week I returned to the classroom for our first day of class on Friday, August 30. It also happened to be day 13 of my second 28-day chemotherapy cycle. During each cycle I take the poison pills on days 1 through 5 and then get the 23 remaining days to “rest.” This will be my rhythm for the entire semester.

Sharing my story publicly

In my introductory remarks about the class, etc. I made a point of explicitly telling my story of being diagnosed, including the graphic photo of my incision a couple days after surgery. I’ll tell you this – it was a first day of class like no other!

My story wasn’t a plea for sympathy, a cautionary tale, or some weird suggestion that students’ stories of their own medical challenges are required to be accompanied by gruesome hospital photos. No, it was my attempt to model the kind of behavior I expect from them as peers, classmates, and teammates. How can I expect them to be vulnerable with each other if I’m not willing to be vulnerable with them?

So, I took a gamble. I tried to use the moment to remind them of our common humanity. I encouraged them to always assume the best about each other’s intentions because there is often so much beneath the surface that goes unseen and/or unacknowledged. And, in so doing, (at least, I hope) I reminded them that I, too, am a human being, not some omnipotent, omniscient, magical being.

I guess only time will tell how well it landed. But, there is this – I got a rousing round of applause when I showed a slide of my first clean MRI scan. And, I’m not gonna lie – it felt good.

Going forward

It’s hard to know what to expect. With each round of chemo, I’d like to think I’m getting a little better at anticipating the side effects, being proactive about countering them, and just generally being more attuned to my body. Now, class just adds a little more to the stakes. But, I’m looking forward to the challenge and the chance to up my self-care game.

5 Responses

  1. You are awesome and your students are so very, very lucky to have a teacher like you. Great seeing you around campus this semester!

    1. Thank you, Emily. Honestly, it really did feel kind of risky. But, then I thought, if I can’t take that risk here, where can I?

  2. I love reading your stories. You are a wonderful educator, and we’re lucky to have you at Olin!

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