At age 34, David Menasche received a diagnosis of terminal glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), one of the most aggressive brain cancers. Although the tumor eventually claimed much of his vision and memory, as well as his ability to walk, Menasche doesn’t spend much time dwelling on what was wrong in his life in his book The Priority List: A Teacher’s Final Quest to Discover Life’s Greatest Lessons. Instead of focusing on cancer, much of his memoir revolves around his life’s calling: teaching.
Writing from a seemingly bottomless reserve of optimism, Menasche recounts how he “backed into [his] dream come true,” when he landed his first teaching gig instructing first-graders in upstate New York. He went on to teach English at a magnet high school in Miami, where he formed lasting bonds with many of his students.
Those bonds came into play when, after receiving his cancer diagnosis and then enduring treatment for six years, he realized the secret to his surviving far beyond GBM’s median life expectancy of about a year.
“I know the doctors thought it was the treatment that was keeping me alive,” he writes, “but I knew better. My job got me through each day. My students were my life force, my breath, the blood running through my veins. In school, I wasn’t sick. I was teaching.
"Eventually, Menasche decided to discontinue treatment and embark on a solo nationwide odyssey, visiting former students whose lives he had touched. His story is inspirational for all who seek to discover their life’s passion.
It’s hard to find first-person cancer stories that are well written and compelling, but this is an excellent example of such a story.