Faculty Commentary

Sometimes Normal is the Best Medicine

jbb-photoThis is a personal story about how Temple Law has been a community for me.

In February of 2016 I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer.  For a variety of medical reasons, I needed to start chemotherapy immediately.  The drugs in question have almost all the horrendous side effects of which you’ve probably heard—hair loss, nausea, problems eating, low energy.

For about a month before I received the diagnosis, I had been teaching Property to a first year section, as I have done here at Temple for many, many years.  The class seemed to me to be going well, and—though several of my colleagues offered to take over teaching it—I did not want to give it up and become a full-time patient.  On the other hand, there was no way the students would, over time, fail to notice that something was going on with me.  The drugs were going to have a visible effect.

“Everyone I’ve told so far has asked if there is something they can do.  And my answer has been, ‘nothing, really.’  But you can actually do something.”

And so, after a lot of soul-searching and consultation, I told my students during class one day what was happening to me, what was likely to happen when the drugs kicked in, and what my chances were likely to be going forward.  As you might guess, the room was totally silent.  And then I said, “Everyone I’ve told so far has asked if there is something they can do.  And my answer has been, ‘nothing, really.’  But you can actually do something.  Just let me teach this class, as I would ordinarily have done, and just take this class, as you would ordinarily do, and just let this one aspect of my life be something like normal.”  And then I called on a student to recite the next case.

I cannot exactly describe the next few months.  I did in fact lose my hair, my appetite, and my energy.  But, with the cooperation of my doctors, I keyed my chemotherapy treatments to my teaching schedule, and I missed only one class.  And my students did exactly what I asked them to do.  They let me be their teacher, they acted like “normal” law students, and they gave me a place and space to be my healthiest self.  My colleagues also helped enormously, taking over all my committee work and allowing me to focus solely on my teaching and my health.

This summer, I learned that, against all odds, the chemo and some subsequent surgery had completely eliminated the cancer (at least for now).  I emailed my Property section with the news.  Since they’d seen me go through the treatments, I figured they were entitled to know the outcome.  I cannot tell you how many replies I received, nor how kind they were.  Nor could I tell you what they meant to me then and mean to me still.

It took him a moment to recognize me, but when he did, his first words were, “Am I allowed to hug you?”

On my first day back to school this fall, with just a fuzz of hair on my head and two clothing sizes smaller, I ran into one of the students from my Property class.  It took him a moment to recognize me, but when he did, his first words were, “Am I allowed to hug you?”

This is the kind of place Temple is, where people will listen to what you ask for and, if they can, give you what you need.   This place, to me, is what community looks like.

Questions about this post? Drop us a line at lawcomm@temple.edu.