When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, my kids were 6 and 3 years old. There are so many things that go through your mind when you’re diagnosed with cancer. The biggest concern for me, though, was how it would affect my children. I had no idea how they were going to cope. In fact, I had no idea how I was going to cope! So, my husband and I enlisted the help of the people we knew who knew kids best: our daughters’ teachers.
Mrs. Schiesl (pronounced like the infamous Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus series) was my 6-year-old’s first grade teacher. When we told her the situation, she did what teachers do best — she stepped right in and took control. The weight of the world was lifted off of me when she told me she would be Emma’s shepherd during the day. She reassured me that all would be ok and that she would let me know if Emma acted unusually or if she thought anything might be amiss.
Fast forward to some random day. I open my email and there’s a message from Mrs. Schiesl. My heart skips a beat:
I think about you daily as I spend time with Emma. Today, Emma told me she was sad because her mommy is sick. So, we sat together and talked about what a strong person you are. She perked back up and was back to herself in no time. Her resilience is a testament to your love and the strength of your family.
I always hope your recovery is progressing well.
That’s it. So simple. And yet so perfect.
If you’re a teacher, here are the things that Mrs. Schiesl did that made my life — and Emma’s life — easier while I was going through treatment:
She immediately responded to my news with empathy and caring.
She did not muddy the waters by recounting her own personal experiences with illness.
She was a consummate professional at all times.
She understood that my requests were coming from a desire to help my child, not a desire to “get her to handle it.”
She let me know, immediately and plainly, when an incident did occur.
If you’re a parent, I cannot urge you more strongly to involve your children’s teachers in what seems like an intensely personal crisis. While it isn’t easy to speak about your woes with someone you don’t know very well, just know that your child knows this person extremely well. He or she may be the person your child spends the most time with, next to you. Your ability to be vulnerable and candid will only help your child and their teacher confront any problems head-on.
Years have passed and I’m doing great. My kids remember what happened, but they aren’t frightened by it. More importantly, as a family we know and understand that our girls’ teachers are an important part of our everyday lives. Emma still speaks of Mrs. Schiesl fondly — in all of her 10-year-old sophistication. She will never forget the gift of patience and love that Mrs. Schiesl gave her. And I will never forget either.
Author bio: Jenn McRobbie is the author of Why Is She Acting So Weird? A Guide to Cultivating Closeness When A Friend Is In Crisis. Art credit: iStock.