Teacher battles against cancer and wins

In the fall of 1996, Dennis Cullinan first began teaching at Ames High. Today, he certainly has his hands full with four AP Psychology classes and two AP Government classes a day. Yet many students may not know that teaching bored teenagers is only one item on his list of concerns. WEB: Did you always want to be a teacher? Dennis Cullinan: I would say that I was probably in my second year of college before I figured out that I wanted to be a teacher. WEB: Any major concerns about life at the moment? DC: Well, I should probably talk about my health! I shared that with my new classes this semester. I guess the challenge has been trying to do a great job in the classroom and trying to also balance health issues. I was diagnosed with cancer in August, so that last month of last few weeks of summer which I would’ve loved to have used in prepararation was spent mostly in medical appointments. Hopefully this semester I won’t miss as much and I will be here on an almost everyday basis. But there’s good news too. They think that the cancer’s gone at this point, that’s what they think. I’m going to do some more testing but the last test said it certainly may be gone, is probably the best way to put it. What exactly was it? DC: Actually I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, which I think is the last stage that you can be in. Basically, what I have right now does not show up on any CT, the tests that they use to test those out. Right now I am no longer on chemotherapy and they’re going to wait two more months before they give me another CT to see if this happens to come back at all. But right now I’m not being treated for that. What’s the biggest challenge? DC: The challenge has been some of the side-effects that have come with it, [but] all in all doing good. I’d really like to make the point that despite the excellent medical care that I’ve received, the students and staff at Ames High have also been a part of my recovery and my therapy. To be around positive bright people certainly has contributed to my recovery and so on. Have you had a change in perspective? What do you worry more or less about now? DC: I think the obvious thing is that first of all you just appreciate everything more than what you did previously. I think that your attitude plays a really big part in it. Basically my attitude is that over time, cancer has taken a few days away from me, where I have to spend in hospitals and so on. And I just decided that I’m not going to let it take away any more. I’m going to live the ones that I have, to the fullest I possibly can. To be honest with you, it’s kind of odd, I don’t really worry about it much…at all. What would be your advice for someone that’s going through a similar experience? DC: Oh, I don’t know..I’ll just tell you how I’ve basically dealt with it. The best advice to give somebody is to number one, just keep a really good attitude. Secondly, is to have a strong support system, which I do, that’s really important. Third, one of the things that I do is follow doctor’s orders. They tell me to do things. I do it. And I suppose surround yourself with positive people. I don’t know if that’s a formula for success but that’s the way I’ve approached it. It seems to be working so far. Anything you want to say to all your fans? DC: I don’t know, I’m a pretty boring guy…I think the only comment I would make is without question, I really love my job and I feel like I am not only blessed with having a good support system, but I am blessed with great classes. I teach things that are really interesting to me and that I look forward to everyday.