Sunday, May 2, 2010

"Just Keep Living"

About 2 weeks ago, I officially came out of the closet--the cancer closet. Before my announcement to the faculty that has been family for 41 years, I had told a few very close friends, but not my immediate family. Intuitively I knew I needed to be physically and mentally strong to spread the news, so not surprisingly if you know me, I broke the news by blogging and posting to Facebook. My social network, along with my colleagues, were my first cheerleaders. For those of you who would wonder when I told Mickey, it was the night before our trip to Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine; I wanted to contain his agony and anxiety as long as I could.

Several days after I told the faculty, I spoke to my students. Overwhelmingly, they responded with continuing support. But there is a heartache with this story. I learned what I had always suspected: that cancer looms in every family. Two stories haunt me, and one of them belongs to a student. He gave me permission to use his name, but I would rather not. He will recognize his story.

He lives with his grandmother, whose cancer has returned. His parents are deceased. He undoubtedly worries about his future, since his perception is that his grandmother has perhaps resigned herself to not beating back cancer. His story haunts me because I ask myself how can I teach him literature or do project-based learning when he is concerned about life-and-death issues. Suggestions?

So I gave him a pep talk, as I did to several other students who have shared their stories. Here's what I believe and live, every day. Before cancer, with cancer, during cancer. It is simply how I live.
  1. Accept but do not Acquiesce: Accept the fact that you have cancer. Face it. Deal with it. But do not acquiesce to it. Beating back cancer is an attitude. You have to cultivate attitude if you were not born with it.
  2. Define but do not Delegate: Define your responsibilities to yourself, your family. Define what you can and cannot do, given the circumstances of where you are in your disease's progression. Live your life as best as you can, not haunted by the specter of the future. Live in the moment. Do not delegate your responsibilities to yourself to anyone else, unless you become too ill.
  3. "Just Keep Living." Prior to leaving the classroom one Friday, I had told one of my classes a story. It was connected to something we discussed, but I cannot remember the theme. It was a funny story, and one of my students said, "Just keep living." He did not know how prophetic his words were, nor how much they meant to me in a totally different context. He became my cheerleader. Going into surgery, I remembered his words before a quick prayer and lights out.
Cancer patients and their families know about survivorship; they deal with it on a daily basis. From the side of someone who has cancer, I know that I need to just keep living. For many reasons, all of them good, I will. But I worry and pray for my students, hoping that they will have the same blessings I have had, a life sentence. And then I pray that their loved ones "just keep living.
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