Saturday, April 8, 2017

Guest Speaker at the University of Michigan

     Last week I was a guest speaker at the University of experience that would have never happened if I wasn't a cancer survivor, who blogs, and who keeps in contact with old friends through Facebook. 

     This is my first grade class picture:  

     I am third from the left, center row.  Laura Olsen is fourth from the left, back row.  We were 6-years-old here, and together we graduated from Central High School in Omaha, NE in the late 70's.  We both went onto college and graduate school and reconnected with each other, several years ago, via Facebook.

     Laura is now...Laura J. Olsen, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  Together with Alexandra Stern, Ph.D., (Professor of American Culture at U of M), Laura teaches a class called Health, Biology and Society, What is Cancer?"  This 200-level course delves into the question "What is Cancer?" from different perspectives - the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.  Last year, Laura contacted me about using my blog as a teaching tool in this course.  I was so honored that, not only did  she read my blog, but she wanted to share it with her students.  This year, she invited me to be a guest speaker.   

     The class was 80-minutes long and nearly 70 students were there that day, sitting around tables to encourage discussion.   I had a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation that summarized my 4-year journey with stage 4 lung cancer and Laura planned for 50 minutes of question/answer and discussion.  I was very skeptical that I had enough material to fill that much time.  

     I'm happy to report that it went well.  What I didn't expect were the thoughtful and engaging questions the students asked.  True to the goals of this course, our discussion covered a lot of ground...the science of my disease, new technologies behind my treatments, (CyberKnife included), insurance coverage and the Affordable Care Act, and how we, as a society, help each other manage the burdens of cancer.  Our discussion went over time.  

The two youngins are students who stayed after to chat.
(Wish I'd caught their names.)
      Thank you, Laura (far left) and Alex (far right), for inviting me to share my story with your class.  Thank you, also, to the students of AMCULT 241/BIOLOGY 241, Winter 2017, for welcoming me and giving me a sense of purpose in having cancer.  Although it's an awkward perspective, if I didn't have cancer, I wouldn't have had this honor...and it truly was an honor. 

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