Love in Action — A Wildfire Story
November 8, 2023
“If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.” These words, spoken by Hugh Grant in a voiceover at the start of Love Actually, perfectly sum up where my cancer journey has taken me.
But the journey of love being all around started for me in a dark auditorium, five years ago, when a keynote speaker said something that grabbed me in an unexpected way: teaching is an act of love. I wrote it down in my notebook (complete with extra hearts) and have been thinking about it ever since.
For many teachers, this sentiment is completely obvious and comes through in all they do. My sister teaches in an autism program in an elementary school and her work teems with love. But this conference was for folks in higher education – those working in colleges and universities – places where love is not front and center (at least not in the classroom). And I’m a professor in a business school, which is definitely not a place where we talk about love.
I came back from that conference ready to spread the gospel of love, but it wasn’t something that any of my colleagues, many of whom are amazing teachers, really wanted to pick up on. So I shelved it for a while until I had a chance to take a course that involved an intensive read of bell hooks’ all about love. The course came at an opportune time – the end of the pandemic school year where I had taught from my guest bedroom when it seemed so hard to infuse love into my teaching even as I knew that it was so necessary to do so.
While it was the right time for me to engage with the course, I still questioned my place there. From the start, the instructor established that an ethic of love was desperately needed because society had become a politic of domination with emphasis on material concerns, greed, and capitalism. So when she called on all of us to introduce ourselves, including what we did, I kept it short and just said I was a professor. Further questioning brought out that I worked in business school, and at that point I didn’t know if my classmates’ raised eyebrows were real or just imagined because I already felt called out for my perceived contribution to the ills of society, and we had only just begun.
Still, I pushed through the awkwardness to get to the learning that I was there for, and I wasn’t disappointed. In all about love, hooks establishes care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust as the ingredients of love – along with open and honest communication. Once I saw love put together this way, it was easy to see how I could put it into action in the classroom, and I was already far better equipped to have real conversations about doing so. And talk about it I did! To my colleagues, to my students, to anyone who would listen. Any of those ingredients have a rightful place in a business school classroom, and talking about teaching as an act of love was finally making sense.
My de novo diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer in August 2022, just before the school year started, meant that I wouldn’t be putting love in action through my teaching, but I knew that I would have to figure out how to find love in my cancer journey. While I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by loving family and friends, it seemed as impossible to find love in sterile hospital exam rooms as my all about love classmates thought it was in a business school.
And just like they were wrong, so was I. Maybe these exam rooms weren’t places to talk about love, but they were places to find care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust. Care in the way that the radiology nurse stroked my hair as possible sites of metastasis were being biopsied, soothing me with her tender touch. Commitment from my medical oncologist and surgeon who advocated for my surgery at the tumor board, when others argued against it because as a metastatic patient, I shouldn’t be having curative therapies like surgery. Knowledge when my nurses sought to get to know me and my family so they could relate to me as a person and not just a patient. Responsibility in my radiation oncologist taking his time to teach his medical student about the best way to do exams, explaining why he did things differently than the way she was taught in the classroom. Respect for my children from the radiation techs who brought them into the booth and walked them through how my radiation treatments happened. Trust in the way my entire medical team values my “one day at a time” approach and works together to ensure my wishes about my treatment are honored.
I get that for many with metastatic breast cancer, love (in whatever shape or form) can be a really challenging part of their journey. While others find solace in anger or grief or any other entirely valid emotion, love has remained my anchor. Indeed, when I started looking for the six ingredients of love in my treatment rooms, it was clear that they were abundant – just like Hugh Grant said, love actually is all around.
Kate Rowbotham • Professor and Assistant Dean. Diagnosed at 47. de novo Stage IV, HER2+. Kate is working hard to figure things out these days – how to manage MBC, how to be an empty-nester, how to do more traveling with her partner (including to their daughter’s hockey games and son’s volleyball games), how to get her book club to actually talk about the book they’re supposed to have read. A few months after her MBC diagnosis, Kate was appointed Assistant Dean of Teaching and Learning, so she’s also figuring out how to balance work and treatments and everything else. • @katerowb
This piece has been republished with permission from WILDFIRE Magazine, the “MBC: Lesson’s Learned” issue, published originally October 21, 2023. More information available at wildfirecommunity.org
WILDFIRE Magazine is the only magazine for young women survivors and fighters of breast cancer under 45 years old. Headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, WILDFIRE is a beautiful, story-based bi-monthly magazine published on different themes relevant to young women survivors, from stage 0 to stage IV. Beautiful and ad-free! Visit wildfirecommunity.org for more info.