On April 27 and May 4, 2017, SHAREing & CAREing conducted cancer education classes at International High School for Health Sciences in Elmhurst, Queens. IHSHS teachers Sarah Cunningham and Priscilla Thomas coordinated with SHAREing & CAREing Program Manager Merryl Reichbach to create an innovative program that allowed students to learn vital perspectives about cancer in an accessible way. 18 interviews were conducted by a total of 179 students.
The International High School for Health Sciences helps new non-English speaking immigrant students acquire English language skills and develop the determination, compassion and discipline for successful college study in medicine, nursing, health counseling, research or in the administration of health care services. Teachers use collaborative, project-based units to integrate English language development with content knowledge. SHAREing & CAREing’s Be a Friend to Your Mother cancer education program was adapted to a small interview format to best suit IHSHS’s unique students and their needs.
Students’ learning goal was to develop English language skills, learn about cancer, and strengthen their empathy, career development and communication skills. Eight SHAREing & CAREing staff and survivor volunteers—Connie Arroyo, Carol Gaviglia, Merci Pinzino, Lucy Rauch, Merryl Reichbach, LCSW, Francine Smith, RN, Karen Sonn, and Eartha Washington—served as interview subjects. Students conducted their interviews in small groups, with one representative from SHAREing & CAREing and about 6 students per session. Each group of students conducted 3 interviews per class session, so each student experienced 3 different perspectives.
The students represented a wide range of countries of origin, including Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti and Uzbekistan. Many have been living in the US for less than a year. Students expressed appreciation for this opportunity to talk with people they might not otherwise encounter and who had much to teach them. SHAREing & CAREing spoke warmly about wanting to learn from the students and validated their experiences and perspective. Adolescent new immigrant citizens do not often have this experience. Students were sensitive to the emotional challenges our cancer survivors faced in openly sharing (and repeating) personal stories of illness, vulnerability, treatment and survival.
We often express the wish that providers and loved ones could better understand how it feels to experience cancer. Many IHSHS students are likely to embark on careers as health care providers. This cancer education program was a chance to lay groundwork for the future as well as offer lessons immediately useful in the present. SHAREing & CAREing representatives appreciated the opportunity to share our perspectives on cancer with interested listeners, and to know that by sharing our distinctive stories we are making a difference.
Some of the wonderful feedback we got from this program…
- “I liked when I asked one reason how your life changed, she said that after getting cancer, I enjoy my life better than my old life.” – Sufian, grade 9
- “I learned that every day is a gift.” – Santiago, grade 10
- “Something that I like is that most of the stories that the survivors told were really interesting and I really liked that they said that they never lost hope to be healthy again. I learned that you don’t have to believe in just one result of your tests, but you have to be sure that you are completely healthy.” – Nicole, grade 10
- “I really like knowing that cancer survivors enjoy their lives, because I see that Connie is a very happy woman!” – Valentina, grade 10
- “I learned that when something is a problem for us, we don’t have to be depressed or feel sad all the time. We need to fix that problem and improve ourselves.” – Zhiwei, grade 9
- “I liked the visit from the survivors because it is a life lesson for each one of us, that we learn the value of living every day.” – Shaltzy, grade 10
- “I learned many things from the visitors, like not to give up even when no one is with us, and to fight for what we decide we need.” – Brenda, grade 9
- “I learned that if we are diagnosed with cancer, we should not give up.” – Zach, grade
- “I liked their strong stories.” – Cristian, grade 9
- “I learned that it is not necessary to feel any pain or sickness, you should always see your doctor and get the results of any test.” – Wahida, grade 9
- “They taught me to value life better.” – Juan, grade 9
- “I liked the visitors who came to us to tell us what cancer is, how it feel when a doctor says you have cancer, and also how it affects your mind and body. They made us feel empathy. I also liked the nurse, Fran, who encouraged us to check our bodies for if we have any problems or not. They answered all of our questions clearly. We learned from them:
– If you don’t treat your cancer, it will spread through, all over your body.
– There are many supports to help you.
– Hope can give you a beautiful life.” – Noosrat, grade 10
- “One thing I learned is that people can still live a normal life after having cancer.” – Alhabib, grade 10
- “I liked meeting Merryl, because she is so patient, and she encourages the people that she helps.” – Fatoumata, grade 10