I told my students I have cancer

and it was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be!

Yesterday, I sent an announcement to all of my classes. It went something like this:

I started using the Remind app to communicate with my students after the COVID lockdown began. This has allowed us to use our phones to send and receive messages, much like a text message, but without sharing my personal phone number. Since March, this has been a great way to be available to my students and to check in on them during this difficult time; however, it’s also largely blurred the lines of a healthy work/life boundary! Still, I love the fact my students find me accessible and feel comfortable writing with class questions as well as questions on all sorts of other topics.

It made sense, then, to send all my classes this announcement via Remind. Because a mastectomy is a major surgery with a significant recovery time, I wanted to plan my absence in my remote courses in a way that was least disruptive to my students’ learning.

I struggled with the idea of whether or not to disclose my cancer to my students. On the one hand, the state of my health does not need to be publicly disclosed, and I thought for a minute that talking about cancer in my breasts may not be entirely appropriate. I mean, who wants to hear about a professor’s boob tumors? Also, since this cancer seems by all current measures to be early stage and treatable, I didn’t want to unnecessarily worry them. On the other hand, one of the things that makes my job so wonderful is the positive rapport I build with my students every semester. How would I have explained a two week absence from our Zoom classes? There’s nothing shameful in my cancer. In fact, this public blog shows I have no problem talking about my boobs or my boob tumors. I figured being upfront without getting into too many details was the way to go.

I wrote the announcement above a few days ago, but when it came time to launch it out into the Remind realm, it took me a significant amount of time to hit the “send” button! I feared that as soon as that message would light up their phones, my students’ impression of me as a happy, energetic, dedicated, grammar-obsessed professor would immediately be transformed into sorrow, pity, or worry.

Throughout this entire “journey” so far, (sometimes it feels less like a journey and more like a forced excursion into a sewage plant) this has been one of the hardest things for me to do. I have personally notified friends, family, and coworkers. I am about to put my shit out there on social media soon enough I expect… but telling my students was almost as hard as it was telling Austin and the girls! They really are like my babies. I hated it.

However, within seconds of the announcement going “live”, the messages of love, encouragement, positivity, and kindness started pouring in. It brought me to tears a few times. A small selection of these messages appear below so I can make some of you softies out there cry, too. I love my job. That is all.

14 thoughts on “I told my students I have cancer”

  1. TEARS! Thank you for sharing their messages; they are beautiful. We really have some of the best students. And, of course, they all love and support you, as we all do.

    You are an amazing professor – I have seen it, aspire to be 1/4 of the prof you are, and hear it from every student who has taken you! Not only are you intelligent and meant to teach, but you care, and these messages truly reflect that.

    And, can we talk about how good their grammar is in these messages?! 🙂
    Love you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We DO have the best students!! And they adore you too, Prof. Z! By the way, I am also so impressed with their grammar in their messages! 😄 Many of these are 1101 students but some of those longer messages are 1584/1684.


  2. I’m not surprised by these sweet messages from your students, my dear friend. You have a way about you. You connect with people. That being said — how wonderfully encouraging and special these comments are! Definitely sniffle worthy. 💙


  3. Nothing wrong about being personal with your students. On the contrary, they will feel closer to you from now on. Besides, they are already having the opportunity to express their best wishes.
    How unfortunate I was not having you as my English professor by the time I struggled to learn the language. However, to be honest…you are my great teacher NOW when it comes to improve my grammar and phonetics. Also, thank you, professor Luli, as we all are learning from you the gracious way to face life difficult circumstances with courage. Everything will be OK and you will still teach us for many years to come.

    Liked by 1 person

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