Lessons we can learn from a teacher's cancer experience
After being diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in 2012, Jennifer Glover drew strength from many sources: a positive community of friends and family, a deep faith, an active lifestyle and the 15 years she spent as a teacher.
“Teaching runs in the blood,” said the 42-year-old, noting the superintendents, principals and other educators in her extended family.
When she was a child, her parents bought her a chalkboard, and she remembered fashioning her bedroom into a classroom, her stuffed animals serving as students.
Glover pursued a business degree during her first two years in college. While working at a bank she volunteered her time as a reading mentor and quickly realized teaching was her true calling.
An early impactful teaching experience was working in an alternative learning center in Kentucky.
“It was a very rough assignment, but one of my favorites,” Glover said.
Many of her students grew up in low-income areas, where they were exposed to crime and drugs.
It was rewarding for her to connect with students and discover how to make the classroom a helpful, supportive place.
“The kids are still smart. They know what’s going on, but they just grew up in an environment with drugs, stealing and gangs.”
Glover encouraged them by providing individual attention and developing activities that fostered creative thinking.
When she was diagnosed with cancer, her students were supportive and compassionate. They could relate to her struggles because of the difficulties in their own lives, she said.
The first year and a half of her treatment, Glover took off work and concentrated on her health. In 2014, while participating in a Phase I clinical trial at MD Anderson, she felt well enough to return to work full time at Navarro Middle School in Fort Bend County’s Lamar Consolidated Independent School District. The treatment succeeded in shrinking her disease and, although strenuous at times, her work gave her purpose and an improved outlook. When she was feeling weak, she would rest in the nurse’s office to get back her strength and finish the day.
“I had to rely on others to help me try to avoid stress. I’ve always been very positive and I have a strong network,” Glover said. “They have always treated me like ‘we’re going to get through this’ and ‘we’ll get you whatever you need to get through to be as healthy as you can.’ ”
Glover urged cancer patients to find activities that stoke their passions. For her, finding a reason to get up every morning — whether it was reciting scripture, teaching children or participating in investigational drug trials — helped her maintain a positive outlook.
As Glover continued her treatment, she planned to continue teaching, which she called a “mission field.”
“You really have to love your job,” she said. “I love it when I know I have that connection.”
Jennifer Glover passed away in January. Claudia Heymach wrote this story before her death. Heymach, an 18-year-old senior at Houston’s High School for Performing and Visual Arts, met Glover during her time working with COLLAGE: The Art for Cancer Network. COLLAGE is a nonprofit organization that brings artists and writers to MD Anderson to work with patients and their families. It was founded in 2006 by Jennifer Wheler, M.D., an associate professor of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics.