Saturday, August 28, 2010

Telling the 800

Many of you may be wondering how I dealt with telling my students about my "condition", or if I even did this. Of course I told them.  You think I could keep news like this to myself?  I'm not that good.

I teach well over 800 different students each week in 31 different classes.  I have these students from 1st grade through 5th grade, so we get to know each other pretty well.  I chose not to discuss my news with my youngest and newest students, the 1st graders. They don't know me yet, and I thought it a bit much to lay this on them their first day in the art room. However, 2nd through 5th grade needed to know. I'm all about honesty and communication in my class, plus, I knew when my hair started to fall out they would catch on that something was up.  I teach very observant children.

This was an interesting experience for me. I actually found myself tearing up in the first class, but got control and the more I did it the easier it got. I will say, if you want to make sure your class is listening and focused, telling them you have cancer will certainly do it. There were times I actually became conscious of the utter silence in the room. The chattiest students were listening and quiet, and if they weren't, someone shushed them.

Now, in case you haven't noticed, I am not a maudlin person, so the last thing I wanted to do was upset or scare my students. I presented my situation the exact way I see it, in a positive light. I let them know that, yes, cancer is very bad, very serious, and I certainly wouldn't choose to have it, but I do. When bad things happen to a person, that person has a choice. Do I wallow in the bad or make the most of it and look for the good? I choose the good.

I think the most frightening thought to most of them was that I will be going bald in a few days. To the upper grades I explained a bit about cells, cell growth, and how cancer cells are cells that go nuts and do things they're not supposed to do. This helped me explain what chemotherapy was...chemicals that go into my body that kill those bad cells. Unfortunately, while those bad cells are being killed, so are a few of the good ones, including those that grow my hair. Sooo, guess what's going to happen to my hair? (This is when the room typically erupted in excited exclamations of "what!?", "oh, no!", and "ewww!".)

They were greatly relieved to hear me say I do have a wig or two ready for this, plus I'll be wearing hats and/or scarves.  I will NOT be teaching school looking like a hard boiled egg.  I would, after all, like to be able to teach them some art this year. One young man did point out how easy it will be for me when it's time to do self-portraits. "You won't have to draw your hair!" I'm considering letting them leave off their hair, too. Everyone always gets a kick out of that first part of self-portaiture, where they draw the head, eyes, mouth and nose, then add the hair last, so why not go with it?  (I hope you get when I'm joking.)

I explained my bald plan this way...
Once I realize my hair is going, my oldest son, JC, who is handy with hair clippers (as he's shaved a few heads in his day) is going to get the honor of shaving his mother's head. They thought this was pretty awesome! So, you moms with my students, be warned, since, when asked, most of them were thrilled with the idea of shaving their mother's head!

We discussed how easy it will be for me to get ready in the mornings, how much more time I'll have, and how much money I will save on shampoo. Kids are nothing if not pragmatic. Before this is over, I wouldn't be surprised if a few of them join me in my baldness. Or maybe not.

I made sure they knew that losing my hair will not be because of the cancer, but because of the cure.  When they see me, they are not to feel sad, but to feel happy, knowing those chemicals are killing the cancer cells.  Living is much more important than growing hair.

As usual, I learned many things in this discussion with my students.  As adults we often forget that kids don't know certain things.  One of these things is that cancer is NOT contagious.  This was asked more than once by very concerned students and, coming from a kid's mind, is a legitimate concern.  I made certain to add this information into my discussion with all of my classes, once this question was aired.

My students know they will be learning much more than art in the art room this year (as one chimed in..."yeah, like science!"). They know I will not be as strong, sometimes may be absent, and will look different, but they are in it with me and I couldn't ask for more positive attitudes.

I appreciated and enjoyed this very unusual art room conversation, but, to tell you the truth, I cannot wait to have a week when the C word is not mentioned.  That may be a while, but I know my students will do all they can to distract me from it.  Like I said in a previous post, they are the best medicine.


  1. Kids are the best medicine. For the most part, they are honest and say it like they see it. Doing art with them you are likely to hear those comments roll out because they are focused elswhere. I look forward to hearing "Tales From the Classroom" as the year progresses. :)

  2. Hey Patti! Its Christine Block. I just finished reading your blogs this afternoon.
    I am with you girl. You got the right attitude and spirit to make it through this!
    You see, we have alot in common!
    Denton....eons ago.
    Second...our crazy husbands.
    Third...we teach young kids and love
    Fourth...we love our dogs.
    Fifth..I've had my battles too with health and just like you, kept on trucking without missing a beat.
    I've had Multiple Sclerois for ten years and two years ago also began the breast cancer battle.
    Its been a road, but I just do what I need to do without dwelling and get on with positive energy it takes to take care of my family and 22 kindergarteners!
    I love you and will be thinking and praying for you on this journey. If you need any info or advice, I am here for you.
    My oldest daughter, Emily said,"Mom, I'm already sagging and you're perky!"

  3. Yay for you for being honest and giving your students a chance to experience real life. I applaud your positivity and honesty. And when you lose you hair, think of all the fun scarves/turbans/hats you'll have an excuse to wear! Blessings : )

  4. I am glad you brought this up because I meant to tell you, I think I heard what you said word for word from my daughter's lips. She even told me how your son will shave your head. She also told me about your port but I think she called it "core" (she mixes up words a lot :). We had talked about it some at home because we have been praying for you, and I too have talked alot about cancer NOT being contagious. She thought you had "caught" it in China. I am all about honesty too, so I very much appreciate this talk! I have a feeling too that for the kids, the cancer will be in the background as you continue with school. Kids ae so in the here and now, that once they get into the art, they will forget that you have cancer. :)

  5. Thank you, ladies! I so appreciate the supportive comments!

    Christine! It has been a looong time! Seeing you on fb - you haven't changed! I cannot believe all you have gone through. I'm going to message you via fb and want to know more. So GREAT to hear from you! David got a kick out of it, too.

    Reba - Thanks for telling me about Lauren. I had not thought of (or heard) the "caught it in China" theory. I'll have to keep an ear out for that one. Kids are such great reminders of what it is like to be innocent.