About ten days ago, I learned that one of my seniors, who I had also taught as a freshman, was diagnosed with leukemia. He'd gone out for surgery to remove a cyst on his forehead. When they ran a biopsy, expecting to find it benign, they discovered it was cancer.
I've been grappling with this news since I learned it. First it was just his counselor passing news onto his teachers, each of us dealing with it in different ways. I felt weepy most of the first day because Alex is one of the loveliest students I've had the pleasure to teach. Always smiling. Always respectful and genuinely interested in what he's learning. He wrote about all of the things he was looking forward to in his senior year of high school. He's part of the school's cross country team and was out each morning or evening running around our track (in addition to regular practice). I often greeted him as I walked home or to school, and he became a familiar sight from my kitchen window. Cross country was one of the things he wrote about being excited about. Never could anyone have imagined that fighting cancer would be part of the journey of his senior year.
Soon, we shared Alex's news with his class mates and to the rest of our student body. I give my English class updates when we have them. His absence in our class is very noticeable. Like the white elephant in the room. We all think of him. So I decided to make sure we all knew it was okay to talk about how we were feeling with each other. I started with sharing how I was feeling - which meant my students saw me cry a little bit. But I think that this is okay. I think it's important that they know teachers as three dimensional, emotional beings too. I remind them that he's still a part of our class, still a part of their senior class. It will be important that they communicate with him - in whatever way they can - so he still feels connected to them. It will be so important for him as he fights his way through difficult chemo sessions, through losing his hair, fighting for his life.
When I saw his mother, before they left for the US to begin his two year treatment, she told me that she thought she'd start a blog. She'd been so overwhelmed by the support shown to Alex and his family. A group of his friends painted the senior rock for him, leaving him one side to paint because, as they told me, every senior should get to paint the rock. What they painted was a message to Alex, which his mother decided to use as the title of her blog. A reminder for all of us to keep Alex and his family close to our hearts in the months ahead.
So, I'll be following Alex's journey, thinking of and praying for him.