Cancer Lessons

This post was written two years ago. I am happy to report my colleague is in remission and still teaching.

We are colleagues–teachers in the same building with some of the same students. Though we are not close friends, when I read her school-wide email announcing she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and soon would be having surgery as well as undergoing treatment, I was deeply saddened.

I had several thoughts. But, you’re only 37 years old. You’re the picture of health. I can’t believe this. What will you tell your students? How will you tell them?

When is the last time I had a mammogram?

Thinking she had sent the email from home, I was surprised when I saw her leaving her classroom at the end of the day. We looked at one another and I offered a hug. She smiled and I asked her how she was doing.

She explained she was doing well. The doctors were confident. She was confident. Everyone was determined to be positive.

“I will beat this thing,” she told me.

Knowing how much they loved her, I asked her how she would tell her students.

“I already have,” she said. “And the best thing is many of them are taking biology, so we were able to talk about cancer and cell division.”

“How did they take the news?” I asked processing that my colleague had actually turned her cancer into a biology lesson.

“Fine, though they are worried about me losing my hair, so I told them maybe I could wear one of their hats.”

We both laughed. My eyes filled with tears.

“You truly have a teacher’s heart,” I told her. “Wow…to make your cancer into a biology lesson…”

Together we walked the span of the hallway and said our good-byes.

And I thought about what an honor it is to work with a teacher who in even her darkest moment sees clearly the importance of doing what is best for kids.



About barbarawmadden

I began teaching in 1981, but after a few years decided staying home with my children was what was best for my family. After almost 20 years raising four children, I returned to the classroom in 2005.

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