Hey all! It’s Holly. My second year as an educator for the Breast Cancer Family Foundation is winding down as the school year is ending with a much anticipated summer. This winter was brutal and I think students and teachers alike share the anticipated relief. I have only two years to go on, but this winter had so much snow I found myself rescheduling not once but sometimes twice due to so many snow days.
Students are cleaning out lockers and desks. Teachers are finishing up grades and custodians are trying to maintain order in the hallway. The energy can be felt by students and staff alike. A great parallel in visualizing this environment is like watching the end of the movie Grease. For me, it is a time of reflection, both personally and professionally. I think back to the entire school year; the schools I had visited, the students, the stories along with the emotions I take away from the experiences. I always go into a school with an anticipated excitement, to share what I know and to inspire my listeners to live a healthier life. Each day I speak, my hope is to make an impression on one student’s thoughts where they might make some life changes that lead them to a healthier life.
Let’s be honest, teenagers are almost from a different world, a different culture, a different language! Part of my job as a speaker/educator, is entering that world and making a connection and difference. I’m not going to lie, this has been a work in progress for me and is a tricky endeavor. But, once you’re in their world…it is amazing! There are no words to explain the conversations where you know you are making an impact. The hugs, the thank you, the questions, the “thank you for coming” as they leave the classroom mean so much. I cherish the moments when a student tells me about the changes they are going to make to become healthier.
I am a big story teller when I speak. I make my presentation work with my stories. These accumulated stories are acquired through past classrooms experiences so it is not uncommon for my presentation to change some throughout the school year. There are many stories I could share. Some of them are funny, some could make you cry yet other stories leave you with a “WOW” feeling that stays with you. I have decided to share a “wow story” to give you a glimpse of the impact the Breast Cancer Family Foundation has on our youth.
This happened in a high school classroom where approximately 40 students sat in individual desks. It was a health class that consisted of junior and seniors. There was one boy who was seated in the middle of the classroom who would not look at me when I spoke. He would look down, while swaying his head back and forth so I figured he had headphones in. I’d walk back and forth to see if I could get a glimpse of his ears to confirm a set of ear plugs, but they weren’t there. Twenty minutes had passed and I had not been able to make eye contact with this student. At one point, he turned around to speak to the teacher who was sitting in the back of the classroom. This student then got up and walked out. Assumingly, I thought the kid had to go to the bathroom and was afraid to get up while a guest speaker was in his classroom. He returned a few minutes later only to return to his original state of no eye contact with a swaying head. This started to bother me and I made it a goal of mine to make eye contact by the end of my presentation. I tried to spike his interest by moving my hands in a theatrical manner while pacing back and forth. It wasn’t working and he didn’t look at me once, but got up from his desk and started to walk towards me when he passed out and fell at my feet. When he came through, I asked him if he was diabetic or had any underlying medical conditions. His reply was no. I asked him if he had breakfast and he said yes, but was wondering how he got down on the floor. The teacher called the school nurse and he was removed the classroom. I proceeded and finished my presentation with the other students. I answered questions and packed my things up. When I walked out of the classroom, I saw that student and nurse sitting on the floor leaning back on the lockers. He was pretty pale and he had a blank stare on his face. I decided to approach him so I also sat on the floor across from him. I got eye contact! It made me smile and I asked how he was doing and wondered if I could ask him some personal questions. He said he felt a little better and agreed to answer my questions. I know the topic of cancer can be a very real and raw thing for some students, so I asked him if he had a family member or someone close to him that was inflicted with cancer. He looked at me and said no. Then it hit me. I carefully and warmly asked him if he had a lump. His answer was yes. I wondered if his parents knew about it but he said he had not told them. I reacted calmly as this poor guy was scared and riddled with anxiety. I encouraged him to tell his parents or someone he trusted to see a Doctor. It may not be cancer, however if it was, it is always best to catch it early.
I felt better after I spoke to him and I hope he followed through with getting care. It was an impactful day not only for him, but for me as well. It was a nice reminder for me that everyone has a story. Our message at the Breast Cancer Family Foundation is powerful. It impacts and it does make a difference. He was student #13 this school year to tell me in confidence about a lump they were concerned about on their body. I honestly don’t know if I will ever know how this boy’s story ends but I can’t help thinking of the different directions this kid’s life could have taken. I’m glad I was there that day. It was a day I made eye contact at exactly the right moment.