Battling cancer as a student strengthens life’s lessons
From The Ichabod - Spring 2017
Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Again.
This was the second stage 2 diagnosis that Stephanie Davies, b ed ’16, received. This diagnosis meant a stem cell transplant was imminent. More chemotherapy was necessary. It was the fall of 2013 and she was majoring in education at Washburn University, a path she chose after her first diagnosis.
Davies had just finished her first year at Allen County Community College in Burlingame, Kansas, in 2011. Married with a son, she was working toward her associate’s degree in early childhood education when she learned she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“After the diagnosis, I decided to stay in school to keep my mind busy,” she said. “I’ve had a couple of family members who had cancer, and they didn’t let it get them down.”
Keeping up with the pace of going to school while also fighting cancer wasn’t just stressful on her but on her family as well. She noticed her son, Conner, had regressed developmentally, and she and her husband wondered if it was the stress of seeing his own mom go through cancer. Special education teachers stepped in to work with him and showed Davies and her husband simple activities they could do at home to help him continue to develop.
“Seeing the teachers who helped my son as I went through cancer treatments was so inspiring,” she said. “They saw things we weren’t able to see and helped us by continuing to reassure us that he was developing normally.”
She went into remission in January 2012, graduated with her associates in May 2013 and chose to follow in the inspiring footsteps of her son’s teachers and become a teacher herself.
Just as her educational journey wasn’t over, neither was her cancer. She enrolled at Washburn to work on her bachelor’s degree in education and faced her second diagnosis in September 2013. She chose to stay in school and finish out her first semester knowing in a few months she was going to face a stem cell transplant that would take her out of school for the spring.
“I just had to keep going, and there were days when that was hard to do,” she said. “I just kept saying, ‘this class is only an hour and a half.’ All of the professors I came in contact with at Washburn were very understanding.”
Tracie Lutz, literary block lecturer, department of education, said she was taken aback when Davies shared her cancer diagnosis, but she knew Davies would be stronger because of it.
“She is someone who has made me a stronger person because of her diligence, tenacity and positive attitude through the entire semester,” Lutz said. “I teach students to be forthcoming with their stories, because we are all human. By sharing and opening up, we will have stronger relationships with other people.”
Davies agreed and said one of the hardest requirements she faced during her cancer battle was when she had to visit and observe a preschool classroom. She struggled with how much to tell the children about what was happening, and what their parents would want them to know about cancer.
“I was going through chemotherapy and started to lose my hair at the time I was observing preschoolers,” she said, “but I wore a wig one day, and the kids didn’t even bat an eye.”
Throughout the two diagnoses, she’s learned valuable life lessons she hopes to pass on to her future students. She chose to focus on elementary education because she enjoys watching students become more independent and see their personalities start to emerge.
“I hope I can teach students that you have to keep going and just can’t give up,” she said. “It’s also going to help me be more passionate and understanding toward parents if their child isn’t moving along as they would like them.”
Davies graduated in December with an emphasis in special education. Conner is now in the first grade at Farley Elementary School in Topeka. He hopes his mom stays cancer free, and maybe someday, she’ll be teaching at his school.
“I absolutely love teaching,” Davies said as she substitute taught this spring. “Even though I’m in different classrooms, I’m still able to form some kind of relationship with the students, which helps with classroom management. This is due in part to the wonderful education I received at Washburn and the teachers in the education department.”