TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Michael Rich (Elon) On His Metastatic Kidney Cancer Diagnosis

ElonMichael Rich (Elon), Hard Prawf Choices:

A little less than three years ago, I was diagnosed with metastatic kidney cancer, a disease that does not lend itself to optimistic prognoses. I have been fortunate to be able to continue prawfing since then, but it has changed the way I understand my job and interact with my students and the prawf community.

One of my first challenges was deciding how much of my situation to share with my students. I pride myself on treating my students as much like adults as possible. So, the first semester after my diagnosis, knowing that treatment would interfere with their class schedule, I shared with them the general diagnosis (cancer) and let them know that it would require flexibility on their part. I also reconfirmed my commitment to them to do my best and to be available when I could. That semester was challenging, but the students were incredibly generous and forgiving. Since then, however, I've tended to share less and less with my students. I don't tell them I have cancer. I simply explain cancellations by pointing vaguely to medical necessity. The change didn't came about because I trust these students any less than the others, but because the process of disclosure was hard and I don't want to add my problems to the preexisting stress of law school. Moreover, my current set of treatments are not as disruptive to class schedules as the first ones were. I wonder sometimes if this is right decision -- if I value setting boundaries between myself and my students too much -- but fortunately my students have continued to be flexible and generous.

Another challenge has been whether to disclose my disease broadly. ...

I share these thoughts, because I've also learned that my life before my diagnosis was actually more unusual that my life since. Before, my life was relatively straightforward and free of complications, but I've come to realize that most lives are complicated, even if the nature of the complications differ greatly from person to person. So perhaps discussing the hard choices that complications forced on me will be useful to someone else.

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