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I recently found out that one of my “mentors” here at school, my writing professor, has some type of cancer on her nose. It is not life-threatening, but has required surgery, and will most likely require more. I had a meeting with her to discuss one of my assignments the other day and we talked about her health a little bit. She told me she knew it wasn’t great, but she’s been worse.
I don’t think my professor knows I consider her to be a mentor, and I think I like it that way. On the first day of school, she told us that our job as Travel Writers was to see the things that other people don’t and write about them. Her class has taught me how to see a world that no one else does, to look at life as if looking through the lens of a camera- zooming in and out, seeing the textures and colors the world has to offer. I find myself thinking differently now. Even walking down the street I tend to look more closely at the bark of a tree or stop to try to put into words the sounds the leaves make when the wind blows. It sounds silly at first, but the main idea of the challenge is, as cliché as it sounds, to stop and smell the roses. It’s much more difficult than you might think.
Despite everything she is going through in terms of her health, my professor always puts her students first. She stays at school until 11:00 at night so we can meet with her to discuss assignments—she lives two hours away. A few weeks ago some kind of virus was going around and it was clear we were all miserable. She told us that, if we needed to, we could be excused from class that day to sleep and get better. I’ve had great teachers before, but none who are so willing to adjust their personal schedules to accommodate students. She truly has our best interest at heart, and it is obvious, even when she isn’t feeling 100 percent.
In an attempt to say, “I kind of know what you are going through,” I told my professor about my mom. It’s funny. I realized, when I told her my mom is a breast cancer survivor, it came out like me saying, “You can do it too.” I was proud to say it. When I used to tell people about Mom, it somehow came out as me revealing some great secret about my life that not many people were privy to.
I still haven’t had enough time to really think about it and come to any type of solid conclusion, but I think that, after a certain amount of time, the “secret” and the stigma of cancer becomes an encouragement. I didn’t tell my professor about my mom so she would feel sorry for me or my family, I did it because I wanted her to feel better, to know that she isn’t alone, to know that she can do it too. Looking back, I think it was my subconscious inviting her into the Sisterhood.
Our cancer conversation was brief, and then we moved on to editing one of my papers. I never thought about returning to the cancer talk because I had said what I wanted to, hoping to give her support. This afternoon I saw her at lunch and she laughed at me because I couldn’t decide what cheese I wanted to put on my cracker. I’m sure I looked awkward, reaching for the brie and then the cheese spread and then back to the brie again (I was unaware that anyone was watching). I laughed too, and as she went to sit with the rest of the faculty she stopped and asked me how my mom is. I smiled and said, “Great! We are 6 years out now and she is doing very well. Thank you.” She smiled, as if reassured, and said, “That’s wonderful,” and sat down.
I think we have a new member of our Sisterhood.