Homeschooling While Fighting Cancer

When Michelle started homeschooling eight years ago, she wanted provide her two sons with a broad education embedded with her family’s values. When she was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, Michelle’s homeschooling routine was shaken at its core. Learn why Michelle continued to homeschool while fighting cancer, and how she managed to do it. 

Homeschooling with Cancer - Educents Blog

Hi, I’m Michelle. I’m a homeschool mom of two (ages 12 and 9). In October 2012, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Aside from my world being turned upside down, my family’s lives were flipped as well. I had only two weeks to recover from surgery before starting four months of chemotherapy. Those two weeks were filled with getting subs for my co-op homeschool teaching positions, revamping lesson plans, and trying to get help with child care so my boys could continue their schoolwork.

The Treatment

While I’d heard about the toll chemotherapy takes on the body, there’s no way to prepare for it. Each infusion, done every three weeks, made me sicker. While I started to feel normal in three or four days after the treatment, but it took nearly three weeks to bounce back after my seventh treatment. 

I lived on anti-nausea medication and steroids, but developed an intolerance to the chemotherapy drugs, so they had to be infused slowly. Plus, some days the chemotherapy treatment lasted up to 11 hours!

The worst part was seeing the fear in my sons’ faces as they watched me drag myself from room to room. It was heart-breaking.

Changes to Homeschool Routine

In an effort to create some type of “normal” life for my family, I insisted on homeschooling. My husband initially resisted the idea, believing it would be too much for me. I was undaunted. I needed to homeschool. It was one area that cancer hadn’t touched. I might not be the same mom but I could certainly be the same teacher.

We worked on history (nothing beats studying The Plague while feeling like you’ve caught it), reading, spelling, and some math. I couldn’t handle science, but later realized my boys got many hands-on health lessons about the importance of hand washing, food safety and keeping germs to oneself. They also learned the side effects of steroids, which make your face round, and how chemo makes your hair fall out everywhere (they hated when my eyebrows and eye lashes fell out)! 

The daily routine of homeschooling was something I looked forward to because it allowed me to escape, albeit briefly, the fact that I was sick.

Unexpected Lessons

Homeschooling was difficult, but we did it! Yes, my children ended up being a bit behind in “book learning,” but they gained in what I call “heart learning.” They’ve developed a deep sense of compassion for people who are ill. They learned you can’t “catch” cancer and no one knows why you get it. You have to take care of yourself, eat nutritious food, and get regular exercise to take care of it. However, even if people do everything right, cancer can develop in anyone, even the healthiest. Conversely, a person can be a couch potato and live to 100. It just happens.

My children learned a lot during this process, but I learned some important lessons as well. For example, my youngest son is quite the comedian and has a wonderful way of using laughter as a healing tool. My oldest son loves to serve by doing things for others. Truthfully, however, homeschooling is what really held my family together during this time. I can’t count the number of times lessons took place on the couch or in my bed. 

We worked together and we learned that we are much stronger together than we are as individuals. I doubt they would have learned that lesson at such an early age without cancer interfering.

The Results

Homeschooling during a health crisis is tough. It takes dedication, determination and the drive to make it work. There are days when getting out of bed is a major undertaking, let alone getting dressed or grading a math test. But that’s the beauty of homeschooling – PJs are perfectly acceptable in the classroom and there’s no rigid deadline for submitting grades. You get out of it what you put into it. So you didn’t finish the entire book? It’s okay! Life’s got a way to teaching us the really important stuff.  

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced while homeschooling?

Giess FamilyMichelle and her husband live in Butler County, OH where they raise and homeschool their sons, Kyle (12) and Braeden (9). Michelle is active in her homeschool co-op, where she teaches middle school science and speech and high school government.  When she’s not homeschooling, she works as a freelance writer and volunteer for the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Greater Cincinnati and Survivors Teaching Students, a national program that educates medical and nursing students on the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. Michelle enjoys reading, cooking, cross stitch and having fun with her family.