I Had Told My Friends and Family That I Had Testicular Cancer, But Now I Had to Tell My Fourth Grade Students
It had been nearly two weeks since I hadn’t seen my students and I wanted to get out of the house. I also knew I had to come clean to them about my surgery.
As I arrived to school, I met briefly with Brian and the school counselor, Laura. I asked them to both join me for morning meeting as I shared the news and to look over the letter I was planning to send to parents. They both said they could be there and that the letter looked good.
The students began trickling in at normal time. I was greeted with hugs and smiles. Carson, whose mother works in the building, was first. He came in to drop off his stuff and saw me. A second later, he ran out of the room to get the other “teacher kids.” When Sophia walked in, her face lit up and she rushed over to me.
Many were surprised to see me with a cane, but this surprise would pale in comparison to what was to come.
I was greeted with hugs and smiles. Carson, whose mother works in the building, was first. He came in to drop off his stuff and saw me. A second later, he ran out of the room to get the other “teacher kids.” When Sophia walked in, her face lit up and she rushed over to me. Many were surprised to see me with a cane, but this surprise would pale in comparison to what was to come.
The late bell rang and the video announcements rolled. Knowing that the transition would not be easy, I started in on morning meeting. I rattled off the normal, mundane things – expressing how happy I was to see them again, thankfully they earned good sub reports, and detailed the daily schedule. I shared that I would be a little slower in my movement but the cane was helpful. Brian and Laura walked in and took a seat. It was go time.
“So I wanted to tell you more about my surgery. The whole reason I had to have surgery is because I have cancer.”
Somehow, being on the other side of those words didn’t make it any easier.
Instant tears from some. Bewildered looks from others. Awkward glances from most. I continued.
“The important thing for you to know is that this is curable. I will need chemotherapy, which is a form of medicine that will kill all the cancer. It’s necessary to do this so I get better. I don’t know how long I will be out, but you will be taken care of. Mr. Fitzgerald, Mrs. Hoover, the fourth grade team, and all your old teachers will support you. You have each other. I know it is not easy to hear that your teacher has cancer. I want to answer any questions you have.”
Hands shot up.
Was I in pain right now? Yes, from my surgery, but not from cancer. How did I know something was wrong? I felt something wrong on my body and went to the doctor. How long will you be out? I don’t know. Will the chemo hurt? It might, but I can handle it. Would my hair fall out? It might, and that would make me sad, but I would survive. (Later, a student came up to stay that if I lost my hair, he would shave his. He has a buzz cut already, but the sentiment was cute.)
Many students already had experience with cancer from grandparents and other family members. In most cases, as with my own grandfather, cancer got the best of them. I reassured them that it most likely wouldn’t happen to me. They had their stories; I had mine. Blending stories and the straightforward facts seemed to be the best way to handle this.
A somber silence hung over the class. I gave them a moment to process.
“Right now some of you are angry. Maybe you’re sad or shocked or confused. You might be blocking it out. All of those are ok. When I found out, I went through all of those emotions. I want you to know that I am here for you. If you have questions today, ask. If they come to you tonight, have your parents message me whenever. I will answer questions you have whenever I can.”
A hand went up, “Where is your cancer?”
Crap. I wasn’t prepared for that. Somehow, saying testicles in front of a bunch of elementary students didn’t feel right.
“It was in one part of my body and has spread to others.”
“Yeah, but where did it start?”
Brian stepped in to save me. “Some part of this cancer Mr. B wants to keep private. Your parents will be getting more information and can discuss further details with you.”
There were no more questions at that moment. I realized it was a good point to stop and try to transition to Virginia Studies. Operative word being try. We were starting a new unit about Jamestown, Halfheartedly, the students began on a Jamestown HyperDoc. I couldn’t blame them. Who can focus on the reasons for settlement when they just heard that news? After giving it an honest effort, it was time to take them to gym.
The rest of the day still put a smile on my face.
After gym class, we happened to have guidance. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Laura had planned to do a lesson on cyberbullying, but switched it to discussing more about cancer. She had brought a book called The Can in Cancer, which was a cute story about a boy who went through cancer. It helped the kids relate, and she then took the students to do something secret for me. (The next day, I’d find out that they had created inspirational posters to cover our classroom walls.)
The physical teaching of the day was ok. I had to teach from a chair for part of the day, which is not my usual style. The kids quickly became attuned to my pain attack face and would rush to grab me a chair. They wanted to help me stand up and bring me things. It’s really cute and awe-inspiring to see how students will look beyond themselves to help others in need.
To put it simply, I knew telling them would suck for both them and me, but I always preach honesty and openness to them.
I couldn’t be a hypocrite. Although my students were filled with emotion that day, I was more or less devoid of it. Was I masking it? Maybe for their benefit. Had I still not fully processed this momentous thing had been thrust upon me? Most likely. Despite my uncertainty in my feelings, it was the right thing to do. Paired with my budding desire to become an advocate for under-discussed men’s health issues, I knew I had an opportunity to model open medical discussions for my students.
Maybe none of them would be touched by cancer beyond me, but at least they would have a good example for how to deal with trying times.
A self exam is how most cases of testicular cancer are detected early. Click the image for video directions or click here for a larger version
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