Sarah Tran was determined to continue teaching property law in the fall of 2012, despite a 28-day hospital stay for the treatment of leukemia.
"I was diagnosed with acute leukemia on Oct. 13," says Tran, an assistant law professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas. "Actually, it was my second time getting it," she says.
She had undergone a bone marrow transplant from a brother four years earlier, but she learned during the fall semester that the disease had returned.
"I felt like the students had been planning to take my exam and should be able to rely on a certain style of teaching," Tran says. "I felt like I couldn’t abandon them."
So on Wednesdays and Fridays, from 1 to 2:20 p.m., a sign on her hospital room door at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas asked those entering to be quiet while she conducted class for 80 first-year students via Skype.
"Sometimes, a machine I was hooked up to would start beeping, but they [medical staff] knew not to talk to me while they fixed it," she says.
Her husband brought her a suit jacket that she would wear over hospital clothes.
"I pretended like I was wearing a suit," she says.
As she began to lose hair, a typical side effect of chemotherapy treatment, Tran says she kept changing her look.
"One week I had long hair, then short hair, then a blonde wig, then a brown wig," she says. "Four weeks in a row they saw me each week with a completely different look."
First-year law student Evan Lange was a student in the class.
"We were still expected to be prepared for class and we got called on like normal," Lange says. "It was not really that much different, except she just wasn’t physically present. We could see her and she could see us. Our generation, we’re always plugged into something."
He recalls the day Tran was receiving a blood transfusion during a lecture and was making jokes about being a vampire.
"Myself and my classmates learned a lot about professionalism from professor Tran, which we will probably remember most of our lives," he says.
Tran says that continuing to teach while in the hospital was also good for her. She says she had a fever for several days that reached 105 degrees the day before one of her scheduled lectures.
"And I thought, ‘Oh my god, how can I teach when my temperature is 105?’ " But by the next morning the fever had vanished.
"It was gone and just didn’t come back," Tran says. "It was almost as if I wanted to teach so badly it made me feel better. And to feel like I was part of something and contributing to something — it was great to take a break from all the cancer craziness."
By November Tran was out of the hospital and back in the classroom. She expects to teach property law again in the fall of 2013. She had a second bone marrow transplant from a sister in December and hopes to run a half marathon in June with her siblings in Anchorage, Alaska.
"I’m actually waiting on some results, but things seem to be progressing well," she says. "With a transplant, it takes a while."