World history teacher Robert Goodman burned so many sick days fighting colon cancer last spring that he was scheduling chemo around his classes this fall.
But a spontaneous Facebook plea went viral, and nearly 60 other teachers and school employees from Jupiter to Boca donated their sick days so that Goodman can fight colon cancer full time. The 23-year Palm Beach Gardens High School veteran educator will miss the first half of the school year while he finishes chemotherapy and recuperates, but if all goes well, he’ll be back in the classroom by January.
On the first day of school, when Goodman would typically be quieting a classroom full of teenagers, he was sitting on the couch in his West Palm Beach home after another sleepless night. His hands were enveloped in thick, gray mittens to fight off cold from yet another round of chemo.
“Today I would have had to report to work for the first day of school, and I couldn’t even sleep last night,” he said.
Goodman is overwhelmed by the response to a call for help he put on Facebook while he was sitting in chemo one day in July.
“I didn’t really expect what happened. I’m very thankful, though,” he said.
Dawn McKeich, a kindergarten teacher at Timber Trace Elementary in Palm Beach Gardens, had never met Goodman before donating one of her days. For her, it was a way to pay forward the kindness her fellow teachers showed her a few years ago, when her kidneys failed.
McKeich missed about a month and a half of school. The teachers formed a meal train for her two sons and made sure her class was covered with plenty of lesson plans.
“Teachers have to stick up for each other,” she said. “Everybody stepped up and helped.”
Without the donated sick time, Goodman would have gone for chemo on Wednesdays and then showed up at school with a chemo pump for two days, nausea and cold spells notwithstanding. He wondered how much food and water he would need to bring with him just to get through the day.
He feared his compromised immune system would be at risk from the germs that accompany the start of the school year and another flu season.
Before he got the sick time he needed, he came up with creative ways to teach for hours and get to all his doctor appointments and tests. Principal Larry Clawson and Goodman’s fellow teachers at Gardens High accommodated his request to have all his classes early in the day so that he could have his planning time at the end so he could leave when he needed to.
“I really don’t know what I’m going to be like after six more treatments,” Goodman said.
Now he doesn’t need to worry about it. If all goes well with a CT scan Tuesday — his first since April — he plans to return after the winter break.
His first order of business: a musical thank-you event for everyone who helped him.
Music is Goodman’s passion. Over the years, he’s played venues from Tobacco Road to Guanabanas to The Brewhouse Gallery, which was created by one of his former students.
That was before a slightly-belated colonoscopy found the cancer. The 56-year-old Goodman had no family history of colon cancer, and after a clear screening at age 46, the singer-songwriter didn’t make another checkup a priority.
Doctors told him he had late stage 3 colon cancer and that the tumor they removed was likely growing for two years. Now the chemo renders him without the strength to sing. It messes with his lungs. The most he can do is sit down at the piano in his living room and play a few notes.
“The music is gone for right now,” Goodman said.
Goodman’s small home music studio is plastered with mementos from his life. His Southboro Elementary School class photo of a safety patrol trip in front of the U.S. Capitol Dome in the 1970s. A photo of a former student who joined the military with a flag in Afghanistan. A cat pop-up greeting card from the students in his fourth hour class, who knew how much he loves cats.
“This whole room, everything means something,” he said.
The battle for his life has shown him he has great friends and former students, many of whom he bumps into at the grocery store or when he’s running errands with his wife.
“It’s like a reminder each time of what I’ve done,” Goodman said.