So begins a new semester here at QC. Much is the same for me here as it is different. I look for the same parking spots (which are incredibly difficult to come by), attend classes in the same buildings, and see many of the same professors. Yet this semester is also the beginning and an end for me. I have begun the Master’s program here which is very, very exciting and nerve wrecking. As exciting as the curriculum is, it is difficult to feel comfortable in an elevated educational setting just yet. It is only week one though and I suspect my comfortably level will increase with the weeks. This semester is also a last for me as well. I guess you could call it the ying yang semester. This is the last semester I will have to tell my professors about my leukemia. If there is a cycle to life, one of my cycles is finally meeting its starting point. A year ago now, in the Spring of 2012 I was diagnosed with *eek* the big c. it was the first time in my academic career that I had to withdraw from classes and inform my professors of a personal problem that would definitely inhibit me from attending classes regularly. Since then I have had to tell a grand total of nine professors about my health situation. After this semester of classes, I will also be just about done with the shots that Sloan has been giving me. No more treatment means no more having to tell my professors about the “what if’s” that make up my life. It is a very freeing feeling.
When I first had to tell my professors about my illness I felt like I was lying. I knew I wasn’t but internally it just felt like a lie. I was breathing. I was tired a lot but what college student isn’t? I had a rash but so what? People function within an educational environment with rosacea or eczema. Why couldn’t I? I also knew that it was true. I had cancer, a hidden “monster” killing me from the inside out. Logistically I had to be admitted to the hospital for weeks on end and could not attend classes. It was scary to tell those first four professors about my disease but I’m happy I did. I’m also happy that I’ve gotten much more tactful at it than I was at first.
If there is one piece of advice I can give to any college student facing ANY significant personal issue that can affect your academic career, tell your professor at the start of the semester. You have an obligation as a student to be honest with the professor so he or she can tell you if it is in your vested interest to continue in the class or drop it. I have found that oftentimes the professor is sympathetic to a student’s personal needs and are willing to go above and beyond what one may expect to make the best of a semester. Professors are people too, with lives of their own, personal issues of their own, and even, dare I say it—hearts! I have had professors alter my education greatly to assist in meeting my own personal educational needs. They do not cut the curriculum and they do not give me an altered syllabus but they do allow much more leniency in time constraints. My professors have also allowed much more dependence on technology as opposed to physical attendance/dependence in a classroom environment. When you tell your professors about your given situation, try to do it tactfully. I have learned that unless there is some sort of personal connection with a professor, do not go into great detail about what happens in your personal life. a general conversation about a personal issue is one thing but a twenty minute pity party is something else entirely. Trust me. That I have learned the hard way. Be prepared for a response. A professor that hears of any situation that is somewhat “abnormal” for a classroom setting is going to have a reaction. In my case, professors usually look pained (like I punched them in the gut to be exact) when I tell them of my disease and treatment. However, I have also had non-responses from professors. Either way, they will hear you and do the best they can to assist in any situation. With all of this also comes an added responsibility. You then have to show you deserve their leniency and surpass their expectations. Do not take advantage of their kindness. Earn your grade. Herein lies the difficult part. You cannot expect a handout just because you have a difficult situation. you are equal in all ways to your fellow classmates and must conduct yourself as such.
Now that the end of my treatment is much more tangible to me, I will not have to tell anyone in my academic world about my illness. No more pained looks on professors faces and no more guilt about having to tell them.