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Tumors and Tutoring

By Laurel Buxton -

We’ve all heard about the hero’s journey, but I don’t think many of us expect to go on our

own. Even when we do, the details and layers of it are far more complicated than we may expect. While I cannot relay my whole story in the time we have, I would like to share with you the piece of my story that kept me going.

My sister used to joke about why she didn’t want to be a pediatric doctor. She’d say that

she couldn’t imagine telling a kid that they had a terrible illness and could die. “What are you

supposed to do?” she’d say, “Hey kid, you have cancer!” We’d laugh it off and promise her that they are much nicer about it.

Last fall, I sat in a doctor’s office by myself. The doctor looked me in the eye and said

“You won’t remember anything else from this appointment. You have cancer.” The diagnosis

ended up being a little more complicated. Cancer with a little c, you could call it. Still, is this not where the journey begins? With every sense of security gone, self-direction and meaning are discovered.

Amid a potential diagnosis and possible treatment plans, I still had a job. I am a Writing

Fellow for Theatre Capstone, helping students write what, for many of them, is their final paper of undergrad. Both the head of the Writing Center and the professor for the class gave me permission to stop tutoring and deal with my cancer with a little c. But I couldn’t. While

everything went wrong around me, I needed something to hold onto. The idea of helping or

being of service gives me a sense of self-direction. As I recovered from surgery it was incredibly difficult to find this feeling. I couldn’t meet with students, I couldn’t use my right and dominant arm, and I couldn’t even sit up in bed. Confined to a hotel room, I felt entirely helpless.

What I found was that even though my circumstances felt constricting I could still be a tutor. Maybe I couldn’t meet with students, but I access their drafts through Canvas and type feedback with my left hand. Though I was still helpless, I could help others. Tutoring took my mind off my circumstances and gave me a sense of purpose. Although I was not able to help in the way I envisioned, I was able to feel useful. What I found is that tutoring gave me a sense of purpose, one that we don’t need a diagnosis to find. In fact I believe there is potential for this with all tutors. We are building cultures of meaning as we assist our own generation. Especially when working with students in our discipline, we are able to see what the future leaders of industries envision. We see what communication struggles they might have, what they are passionate about, and what makes them pursue their education even when they face difficulties. We see a student that is vulnerable. More than that, we see potential.

As I read through these papers I often made notes referring to specific grammar errors.

The strange part was that I recognized these errors but didn’t always know what they were called or how to explain them to the student. This is when I realized that even though I can be of some assistance as a tutor, I, too, am still learning. But I think this is why we educate: to leave the world in better shape than how we found it. If I can not only help a student, but teach them something new about writing, then I feel like my work is purposeful. And if I relearn something along the way? That’s just an added bonus. As I work with students who are resistant to being tutored I learn new ways to engage them. I learn about their topics, their passions. I learn about their worries and their hopes. One of my favorite quotes from Star Wars reflects this concept. The character Ahsoka Tano says to a younger Jedi, “In my experience, when you think you understand the Force you realize just how little you actually know” (A World Between Worlds). She might be talking about something in a galaxy far, far away, but isn’t this true of teaching and tutoring?

We do not teach and tutor because we know everything. We teach and tutor because we

know so little. I look at not just the semester, but the year that has transpired and I feel that

there is nothing more true than that statement. We have persisted despite, well, everything.

Tutoring students was a fundamental piece of my hero’s journey. It rebuilt my culture of

meaning when my world turned upside down.

Last spring I wrote a reflection on change. It was a bit of foreshadowing for what was yet

to come but it is the foundation of my culture of meaning. It’s something that I had to remind

myself of regularly throughout the year and especially throughout last semester. It may not be

about the physical act of tutoring but the idea of universal connection and hope despite struggle remains.

Yesterday, I finished my sophomore year of college. After our finals were done we drove

up the canyon. Rio jumped in a lake. Not sure why, given that there was still snow on the ground and the water must've been freezing, but she did it nonetheless. I've been baking a lot of bread lately. This morning it was rising and I stood on the porch looking out at the mountains. A cup of tea rested in my hand. The sun shone. The birds chirped. Amidst all of the chaos breaking down the door, the world still turns. Tonight we chased the sunset. Through it all, the same sun watches over us. It always will. So if anything, I rely on the constant rotation. Faith that another day will come with highs and lows and there will be light through it all. In the stories one hears, this is how they find resilience. This is how they find meaning, purpose, enlightenment. Here is the origin of the ancient prophets. Here, too, is the genesis of tomorrow’s leaders. And the same sun shines on.

I, too, am here. I, too, remain.


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