Thursday, June 30, 2022
June 30, 2022

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Biology class learns about cancer from survivors

The Columbian
Published:

MEADOW HOMES — At Vancouver Virtual Learning Academy, William Baur’s high school biology class is piloting the high school OpenSciEd science curriculum. Students recently started a unit focused on cancer. After spending the first part of the school year focusing on ecosystems, Baur wanted to focus on a topic that would build upon students’ understandings of cells, DNA, proteins, and human body systems.

Cancer can be a difficult topic to discuss, but with 42 percent of cancer cases being preventable, Baur hoped that his students would gain a greater awareness of who is at risk of developing cancer, and why.

At the start of every new science unit, students generate a list of questions about the subject. One of the first questions that Baur’s students asked was, “How is female breast cancer caused?”

Just then, Baur read about a podcast, Rotten Melons, hosted by two local Vancouver labor and delivery nurses and breast cancer survivors. He invited Deanna Berger and Meredith Pena to share their experiences, and help to answer one of the students’ big questions: Where should we focus our efforts on treatment and prevention?

Most information available online and in various educational resources focuses on figures and hard facts, rather than the emotional and other aspects of what it feels like to have breast cancer. Through their weekly podcast, nurses Berger and Pena touch upon these lesser-known topics, such as hair loss, anxiety, chemotherapy, and toxic positivity. Baur contacted them in hopes of broadening his students’ understanding of what it means and feels like to have cancer from actual breast cancer survivors, providing their real-world accounts to enhance the lessons.

Based on student feedback, Berger and Pena’s visit to the class made a lasting impression.

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