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Teaching with courage

​While there is no good time to have cancer, Wil Loesel is thankful for the timing of his stage-four non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. "I started treatment right as we went into remote learning in March," he said. "I just finished my last treatment on Sunday, the day before school started. It would have broken my heart to not be there for my students on the first day."

The Albemarle Road Middle teacher earned local and national media attention in May, and his story was featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. At times, he was uncomfortable with the attention. "I am not shy, but I became a teacher because I didn't want to be in the spotlight," he said. "As a first-year teacher, I was not a good teacher yet. I was just getting my groove when everything happened. I felt uncomfortable getting that attention when I worked in a building full of great teachers. You don't just become a great teacher overnight. That's not how it works. Teaching is hard."

Loesel was also concerned about sharing his personal health information. "It was so strange to be the cancer guy," he said. "It was this long, exhausting thing to try to update people. But people started reaching out to me from other schools across CMS saying they are in my corner. I started hearing from other stage-four lymphoma survivors. Being on Ellen was awesome. She tweeted me! It was a fun ride for a little bit. It was weird, but fun."

After months of treatment, Loesel's doctors are optimistic about his future. He has completed treatment and will soon have tests to measure his progress. "Everything has gone as well as we could have hoped," he said. "My immune system is virtually nonexistent right now. It will be a while before I can go back out into the world."

While the attention was at times uncomfortable, Loesel said it helped him stay positive. "Optimism doesn't cure cancer," he said. "The treatment does that. But optimism does help how you approach it and how you get through it. I had so many people in my corner that it was difficult to feel bad. I was asked recently if I ever cried. I think I cried for about 90 seconds in the beginning. Since then, there was so much going on and so much support that I never had time to sit there and be negative."

That support has also helped Loesel as he starts his second year of teaching. "There are a lot of people I can reach out to for advice and guidance," he said. "I have all these other teachers and educators as supporters and resources. I am as prepared for this school year as I can be."

As Loesel starts the school year remotely, he is focused on continuing to build relationships with his math students. "A big part of it is just guiding the kids, socially and emotionally. Kids are confused and scared. I try to tell my students, 'It is OK to feel that way. Teachers feel that way. Most of your friends feel that way. Anxiety is normal.' I try to build that rapport and trust so that when we return to the classroom, we can go really hard."

As he looks forward to the future, Loesel is thankful for the support he's received from the district. "Thank you to everybody who was so amazing, from my school colleagues, my principal, teachers throughout CMS. It was very difficult to ever get down about anything because I felt so supported. Thank you. It really made an actual, tangible difference in my fight."


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