Dealing with Illness As A New Teacher

This post marks the first time I’ve publicly, and on paper, spoken about my illness.

In late 2013, after only a few months in full-time employment as a teacher, I noticed a lump developing on my neck. After reluctantly going to get it looked at, I was diagnosed with Stage 2A Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. At the start of 2014 (Valentine’s Day no less), I was sitting in a chemotherapy chair having drain cleaner pumped into my veins. I was currently teaching my first ever HSC class, and I weighed up what to do. Do I call it quits for 6 months or more, or do I juggle teaching and treatment?

I came to my decision relatively quickly and without hesitation: I would have chemotherapy treatment every second Friday, take the weekend to recover, and then get back to school on Monday. I didn’t want my Year 12 students to suffer in their education because of me. This went on for 6 months, and not once did I let the treatment get me down. In fact, I’m pretty sure school kept my mind off of my illness! My students were extremely supportive as well and looked out for me as much as they could.

During the chemotherapy, I developed a form of psychological issue: whenever I got to the hospital and saw the cannula needle, I would begin to tense up and feel ill. It got to the point where I needed to have 2 types of sedatives to knock me out, because on a number of occasions, I got so anxious that my veins seized up and blew the needle out. Unless I was asleep for the whole process, I wouldn’t be able to cope. I’m not going to lie, many times I just didn’t think I would be able to handle it all. But, I pulled through.

After 6 months of chemotherapy treatment, I shifted to radiotherapy, and this is where I really crashed. Whilst the chemotherapy took my hair and made me look like a Simpson (yellow skin), the radiotherapy took away the most important thing a teacher has: my voice. Because my lump was on my neck (and there was also one inside my lung), the frame of radiotherapy included my throat region. After about session 5 of 15 of radiotherapy, my throat was essentially cooked. After 6 months of stoically handling chemotherapy, I fell at the last hurdle. I had to take 2 weeks off of work because there isn’t much use for a teacher who can’t speak.

I am happy to say that after a horror year, by the end of 2014 I was in full remission (and still enjoy that status today). The tattoos that adorn my torso from the radiotherapy are badges of honour for me now: they remind me that I am human, they remind me of the passion I showed for my students, and they remind me that I won.

2013                                                   2014                                                   2015


10 thoughts on “Dealing with Illness As A New Teacher”

  1. Mate, you are an inspiration to all of us. I frequently catch myself getting caught up in school life and whinging, only to remember how staunchly you managed not only your illness but maintained your exceptional teaching throughout.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Marco,
    I am so happy that you are well again – I didn’t know that you were seriously ill until now.
    What you did is really amazing – as a teacher I also feel responsible for my students but I don’t now if my feeling of responsibility would have gone that far…
    Anyway, the students can be glad to have you as a teacher and most of all, I am happy to see you healthy again 👍🏻
    Love from Germany

    Liked by 1 person

  3. They say courage comes in many forms and that we don’t recognise it within ourselves. To keep going in the classroom despite the physical challenges takes courage.

    Celebrate the milestones when they arrive and when greater challenges present themselves , smile in recognition of that super power within as it propels you onward.

    Our kids love to look out for us when the chips are down. They are wonderful courage refillers.

    Thanks for reminding me about the gifts we have that we sometimes are not aware of.

    Liked by 1 person

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