Teaching Cancer is Exhausting

Today I came home and I was just dead on my feet. And I was thinking about why that was, and I just didn’t get it–my lessons were normal, there were no huge labs, I was in the office, I had some frees… what was different? The content.

Teaching cancer is exhausting. And it’s not that we have super amounts of activities–in my one class, they did a cool introduction to the hallmarks activity, and in the other they researched cancer treatments, but I think what’s exhausting about it is being so emotionally aware all the time–students ask me a lot of personal questions, and it’s so hard to be sensitive to where they’re coming from, and to be truthful, and to not insert my own opinions or stories into the matter.

We were talking about how you get cancer, or rather, how you get the mutations in your cells that can lead to cancer, and someone mentioned radiation, so we were talking about where radiation came from–the sun, X-rays, and some cancer therapies, and then someone said the killer, “But wait a second–if we’re using radiation to cure cancer, wouldn’t that just make more cancer?” And those are the times that I’m left speechless because yes, there is a potential to cause more cancer, but also no–sometimes radiation is the best treatment option. It’s just so hard with a topic that comes so close to home. For everyone.

Then while we were having that radiation conversation, someone mentioned that radiation on your skin could cause melanoma, and then I let it slip that someone close to me had recently died of it. And all of a sudden, I had this rush of emotions, and I was thinking about my friend, and I was on the verge of tears, and there I was in front of the whole class.

“I’m sorry. I love my train of thought.” And then in those couple of milliseconds I felt so… exposed. Because just then they weren’t talking, and they weren’t zoned out, and they weren’t doing whatever else they normally do–they were 100% watching me pull myself together.

It’s very…it feels soul bearing when that happens in front of the kids. Normally I’m Miss S and I laugh and joke about and have everything under control. But when that falls apart and they see something other than their happy teacher, it’s very jarring because it’s no longer part of “the act”–I’m no longer a teacher, but a person. And THAT they pay attention to.

 

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