Eleven days into the school year and we were already setting up for our annual Back To School Night. The room was buzzing with kids showing their parents around the room, signing up for fundraising materials, and asking me questions. One parent after another stepped closer and inquired about how their child was doing so far in the year. I quickly assured them that their children were doing well and we were still getting to know one another. However, I did have a few parents that I wanted to speak with whose children were either a little chatty, missing some paperwork, etc. The night was off to a great start and within minutes the grade level presentations would begin. It seemed like all the families and students were excited for a new fifth grade year.
As I was wrapping up meeting the parents and helping them find the needed material I faintly heard a voice from behind me ask “Can I speak with you outside please?” As I turned around I found Mrs. Martinez, Jonathan’s mother, standing behind me. She was one of the parents I wanted to speak with but was caught off guard by her inquiring to speak with me outside as we were just about to get started. Before heading outside I told the parents standing near me that I would be right back. As I was following Mrs. Martinez outside a variety of thoughts were running through my mind about what she would ask or say, especially to pull me out of the room right as we were about to get started.
When we got outside she turned around and I could see fear and confusion in her eyes. I quickly became confused too as I was not sure what she was going to say. She started by asking if I had noticed anything different about Jonathan and the way he had been acting. I was happy she asked this as she was one parent I wanted to talk to. Earlier in the week I had noticed that Jonathan would talk to me and his classmates and look off to the side out of the corner of his eye during the conversations. I mentioned this to her but really didn’t think anything of it. My concern was that he was a little chatty at times when I would want him to stop talking. I felt that this would ease her concern as I reassured her I felt he may have just been looking around and talking at the same time.
Her eyes began to well up with tears and this further confused me as I didn’t understand her reaction to what I was saying. She went on to say that Jonathan had been complaining of headaches and blurry vision so she took him to the doctor after school just hours ago and they had found a bump. The doctor was going to set up an emergency appointment the following day but she was trying to see if I had noticed anything odd at school. She went on to tell me that the bump may be a tumor and she was afraid that the results would not come back in his favor. I immediately reached forward and gave her a hug as tears streamed down her face and told her that no matter what the results were that we were here for her no matter what happened.
The following day Jonathan was not in class and I remembered that he had his appointment. All day long I was thinking positively that the doctor would say the bump was from Jonathan just being a boy or playing rough and it would go away on its own. However, Monday arrived and he was still not at school and an uneasy feeling came over me and I felt something more serious may have happened.
After school my principal, Mr. Brengard, came into my room and told me that Jonathan’s mother had called and the bump was in fact a tumor and that he was already checked into the hospital for surgery that Wednesday. We dropped everything and drove to the hospital to give him our well wishes. Knowing that just days earlier he was at school in class and having fun was tearing me up inside. Upon arriving Jonathan was his usual cheerful self and in good spirits about the current situation. We greeted him with hugs and encouraged him to get well soon. We wanted him to have a speedy recovery from the surgery so he could join us back in class.
Upon leaving, Mrs. Martinez pulled us aside and mentioned that the medicine the doctors gave was working to shrink the tumor and the surgery would be taking place later that week. She told us that he was being strong and from the surgery they would be able to tell if the tumor was cancerous or not. Hearing those words come out of her mouth felt like I was in a slow motion movie. I knew tumors were serious but to have this sweet, innocent child have cancer just didn’t seem real or fair to me. She mentioned that she would keep us updated and to please let the class know he was having a surgery to have the “bump” removed and that any and all prayers were welcomed.
Cancer. This is one of the words teachers never would imagine to associate with a child in their class but it has quickly become my reality. The following week I received a text from Mrs. Martinez letting me know that the results were back in and that Jonathan in fact did have cancer and it was Ewing Sarcoma a bone cancer. I froze upon reading the message and then responded asking how he was taking this news. She said that he was as receptive as possible and that they were all taking it in strides the best that they could.
Entering class the next day was extremely difficult and having the kids ask when Jonathan would be returning was even harder. The class knew he was having surgery and he would be returning after he had healed but that day was quickly approaching and I knew that he would not be coming back as planned.
Knowing that the date was coming, Mr. Brengard had drafted a letter to be sent home with the class explaining that their classmate had cancer and he provided the parents with talking tips so they could address the topic at home first prior to sitting down at school in a classroom meeting. I knew that it was only a little while longer until I would be able to be open and honest with the class. I would soon be able to answer their questions, help support them through their understanding of this all, and take this opportunity to help teach them and make them more aware of this disease.
Finally the day had come to sit down with Mr. Brengard, the school counselor, and the school psychologist. The students parents had received the letter the night before, conversations were had, and we were now ready to let the class know where their classmate and friend Jonathan had been all this time and what was truly going on.
My class and I are writing this blog is to educate others about childhood cancer. I personally want this journey published, so that if other teachers out there ever have a student diagnosed with cancer they can share our journey with their class. There is no one way to go through this life changing situation, so I hope that what we share can help others better understand the steps to come.
The 5th grade team at Katherine Smith Elementary have an annual project called “Can Kids Cure Cancer?” in which the students learn about three childhood cancers, the body systems they affect, and raise money and awareness for the cause. This year as my class partakes in the project, it will have a special meaning to them and for the remainder of their education they will remember the real world issue we tried to solve as a class and family. When one of your own falls, you must stop and pick them up…no one is left behind!
This blog is courtesy of Katherine Smith Elementary School, a New Tech Network school.