I will remember my students’ act of kindness forever.
As well as being a cancer blogger, Laura Yeager is a religious essayist and a mental health blogger. A graduate of The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, she teaches writing at Kent State University and Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Laura survived cancer twice.
Well, this wasn’t a bad semester teaching writing at a local university. I had only one hellion, a real provocateur, whom, by the end, I tamed and taught how to stick to a single thesis statement when writing an essay.
Also, I didn’t have to teach with breast cancer, as I’ve had to do in prior semesters. Back in 2011-2012, I kept my teaching job at the recommendation of my psychologist who said that continuing to teach would keep my mind off my cancer predicament. She was right. With planning classes, keeping up with reading, grading papers and maintaining office hours, I didn’t have time to think about my illness too much. But it wasn’t easy, going to chemo on the weekends and teaching during the week. My friend Leslie subbed for me when I was just too tired to make it in. I missed four classes spring semester. I considered that an accomplishment.
This fall, I didn’t have cancer, but I did have a cancer scare. I was having severe pain in my breast, which I feared was returning breast cancer. The doctor did a CT scan and discovered it wasn’t cancer; it was blood clots—pulmonary embolisms, a complication from a hysterectomy I’d had in the summer. Blood thinners took care of the embolisms; they’re gone, and I’m now on a medicine regimen of one baby aspirin a day for the rest of my life.
So it was a pretty good semester. Some of my students this fall showed great improvement. Pete, who entered as a “C” student, left as an “A” student. Steve entered as a “D” student with atrocious grammar, and left as a “B” student. Other students such as Lucy, Carrie and Beth maintained their brilliant ground, entering with “A” writing ability and exiting with the same.
I did do something controversial this semester. When I was having my cancer scare, I let the students in on my predicament. I told them that I’d had cancer twice before and that I was being tested to see if I had it again. I did this because I felt particularly close to the students in my classes this semester; they were two groups of very mature, very caring kids. Although I didn’t want to “dump” on them, I told them because I didn’t want to go through the waiting alone. I hate waiting for test results. Thank God, the news was good, well, relatively good—no cancer, only blood clots which were treatable.
Then, something happened that I’ll never forget. Two dear students, whom I’d been bringing along, purchased a huge chocolate chip cookie that was decorated in pink and blue icing. It read, “Yay, no more cancer!” Such a nice gesture. It brought tears to my eyes. I took a picture of it and put the image on Facebook. We shared the cookie as a class in celebration of my good news.
If you’re going through cancer, or a cancer scare, you don’t have to go through it alone. Telling my students, the people I see every day, turned out to be the right thing to do. It might be appropriate to inform your co-workers (or students, if you’re a teacher) what you’re going through. People are very compassionate when it comes to cancer.
Now, at the end of the semester, all I have to do is finish grading research papers, give the final exams, grade the finals and tabulate the final grades.
That was one class for the memory book, though. Sometimes, kids can be so thoughtful. That chocolate chip cookie was delicious and heartfelt. I will never forget it or the girls who gave it to me.
On the other side of the coin, if you know someone suffering from cancer or overcoming cancer, consider giving them a small gift. The gift of food is always nice, but the small token of love can be anything such as a scented candle, a bottle of hand soap or a pair of warm, woolen socks. Believe me, it will be greatly appreciated.
Yes, another semester ends quietly.
And I am so grateful to be alive and celebrating Christmas 2017.
Merry Christmas, folks.