I thought I’d heard it all.

At first, Jane was just another “problem student” who had trouble focusing. She claimed that she was just hyper, or just had a bunch of candy; the usual excuses. I thought that I had made a breakthrough when she told me she was dyslexic. My eyes lit up as I moved her to the front of the class and provided the notes in advance with blanks for her to fill in. I was excited to be able to meet her needs as a teacher.

Then she started missing school. She’d come in late with a limp and ask to be left alone for the day. “What’s the matter? Hungover again?” I’d smirk.

“Something like that,” she said with a weak smile. Later that day, she’d murmur something about a spinal tap.

“Oh, man!” I said, “my sister had one of those and she got awful headaches.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I have headaches; I couldn’t do the homework last night.” A pretty weak excuse as excuses go. I’ve heard a lot of them. I’ve heard a lot of excuses.

Then she’d miss a whole day. She came back to class with no energy and didn’t have the pluck to talk to her classmates during the lesson or distract her neighbor. “I was with family. There’s drama at my house. I couldn’t finish the project.” I’ve heard that one a lot, but I give grace for unstable home lives. I thought I’d heard it all.

Soon she was out a whole week at a time. The office would call and say that Jane was in the hospital and her mom was coming to pick up her assignments. Hospital is a good excuse. One of the best I’ve heard. I thought I’d heard it all.

When she got back, I’d be patient and show her what she missed. Jane was pretty bright and could have gotten an A if she were in class more often. I would tell her that when filling her in on the Perimeter and Area of Trapezoids.

Eventually, she leveled with me.

“Mr. V, I have cancer.”

I thought I’d heard it all.

“Like bad cancer?” I asked.

“Well, it’s a … osteoblastoma… I think.”

I know enough to know that having “blast” in the name isn’t a good sign, but I keep a straight face. So what’s the plan?

“Nothing,” she shrugged.

“What do you mean, nothing? I mean what’s the plan for treatment? Chemo? Radiation?”

“Nope. I don’t want none of that. My auntie had cancer in her face, and even after they took it out, she still has it, like under her eye. The radiation just made her hair fall out. I’m already losing my hair and I ain’t gonna be one of them bald girls.”

I tilted my head sideways. “So… that’s it? Just giving up? How long do you have?”

“Well, the doctor says if I eat right and take the pills then I could have years left, but I don’t even eat at all now and those pills make me tired. So maybe…six months?”

I thought I’d heard it all.

“Why not fight it?”

“Oh, uh-uh. I saw what it did to my auntie. Three weeks in a hospital and it didn’t even cure nothing. I hate hospitals to begin with. I ain’t doin that. My momma wants me to do the treatment, but she knows it’s my life. It’s my decision.”

“Hmm…I’m curious why not; it seems like you have years to gain by risking weeks.”

“Mr. V, it sounds like you trying to convince me.” She grins a winning smile, white teeth against her dark skin.

“No; you’re going to do what you want to do. I just want to understand you and make sure you know what you’re doing. Do you journal?”


“You should start.”


“Because,” I say, touching my head. “The right side of your brain is where emotions lie and the left side is where speech, writing, and logic lie. By writing or talking about your feelings, you move the ideas to the logic side and can see things more clearly. Think about it.”

“Okay, Mr. V.” She grins and goes to lunch.

I thought I’d heard it all.

Turns out, she was full of shit. She knew all along it was a cyst.