Faculty lecture features brave story of DVC English teacher


Shane Louis

English professor Marcia Goodman talks about life and teaching with cancer at the 51st annual faculty lecture at DVC on Thursday, May 7.

Moments before being introduced as the 51st Diablo Valley College Faculty Lecturer, Dr. Marcia Goodman sat quietly at the end of the front row, her head down.

Most people would go unnoticed in such a situation, hidden amidst the bustle and conversation of a crowded event.

But for a few reasons, Goodman, 60, isn’t one of those people. For one, the hat gives her away. As any recent student or colleague could attest, she sports one every day and never seems to wear the same one twice.

What also makes Goodman stand out is the story behind the hat.

She has been has been an English professor at DVC for the past two decades, guiding students through literature’s great authors and the often murky process of college-level writing. And for nearly 17 of those years, Goodman has simultaneously been battling ovarian cancer.

When Goodman takes the podium on this day she will talk about the latter part of this story, the part that more typically takes a backseat to Shakespearean plays and thesis statements.

“My observation of myself and others who are living with an advanced cancer is that we all do it differently,” she said. “We each do cancer as we do life. Bringing to it all the individual strengths, weaknesses, quirks and neuroses that we bring to everything else we do.”

Titled “The Strength of Fragility,” the lecture traces how Goodman herself has “done” ovarian cancer since her 1998 diagnoses.

She recounted her Brooklyn upbringing as the “good child,” and explained how having already had to cope with her brother’s early death made her own diagnosis both easier and harder to bear.

Many of the lessons and questions that come through these stories were infused and further explained by quotes from Goodman’s favorite literature like Russell Sanders, Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway.”

She quoted Dickinson’s poem ” ‘Hope’ is the Thing With Feathers” and then read one of her own poems that mirrored and responded to it .

In the last part of the lecture she explained how this experience has affected her teaching style and left her more interested in hearing what her students had to say.

Tyler Boman, 20, who was in Goodman’s Early British Literature class last fall, remembered when she told the class that she would continue to teach despite her cancer symptoms returning.

“I’d be worrying about her but in a sense, but I knew that I got a little piece of her life that she had opened up and shared with us and I appreciated that honesty,” he said, ”I think it made the classroom much closer and I think it made it a more tight-knit community”

After the lecture ended with a standing ovation that featured more than a few teary eyes, Goodman, again returned to the role of thoughtful English professor in the black hat.

“I think I’ve really appreciated the turnout both last night and the turnout today,” she said about the faculty lectures. “It was really nice to feel like the community was behind me.”

When asked how the lecture affected the way she views her experiences, Goodman pondered for a moment.

“It helped me articulate to myself some of the ways it has really affected my teaching,” she answered. “That, in and of itself, made me feel good —  it felt like something good came of it.”