Cancer Teacher

McNeil Elementary teacher Ralph Parkman went through most of the past school year with prostate cancer. Getting after-school treatment at nearby Texas Oncology-McKinney enabled him to keep teaching every day. 

Mathematically and scientifically, Ralph Parkman likely knew all about his chances of having prostate cancer. He’s in his early 60s, an age group with higher incidence rates.

Still, it took three biopsies and several months of convincing.

He hadn’t taken many sick days over a decade as a math and science teacher at McKinney ISD’s McNeil Elementary.

“It was important not to miss school,” said Parkman, who turned 61 in January.

Several months prior, on Sept. 22, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. His PSA levels had been steadily rising, so it wasn’t a huge surprise. But his risk level, categorized as intermediate, wasn’t too alarming.

Parkman’s urologist sent him to a radiation center in Plano, but even that would have made perfect attendance difficult. So he went to Texas Oncology-McKinney, adjacent to Baylor Medical Center off U.S. Highway 380, and did all 45 days of treatment there.

Texas Oncology had the equipment and scheduling necessary for after-school care. He could leave by 3:15 p.m. and be done by 4 p.m.

Parkman missed a few staff meetings, but never class time.

“He didn’t have to stop working,” said Dr. Anand Shivnani, who treated Parkman. “That can be added stress.”

Fellow teachers – even some administrators – were unaware of Parkman’s disease. His students certainly didn’t know. For those he told, he’d preface the news with, “I’m OK.”

His fifth-grade team figured it out, but Parkman insisted he didn’t want sympathy. He was the same Mr. Parkman, the district’s former elementary teacher of the year.

“It was a blessing,” he said of his McNeil and Texas Oncology support. “It all kind of worked itself out.”

And he started to work out, literally, as he increased his exercise levels. Most weeks he walks several miles.

He cut out red meat and shored up his entire diet. (OK, so maybe he’s not exactly the same Mr. Parkman.)

Radiation sessions ended in April. Parkman joined a prostate cancer support group at Texas Oncology.

He’s had time to look back on what could have been a tumultuous school year. He instead sees accomplishment and mostly class as usual.

“There are no accidents in life,” said Parkman, like a true mathematician/scientist, noting his original oncologist quit his practice last February and led him to nearby Texas Oncology. “I couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”

Aside from six-month checkups, Parkman’s after-school hours will again be filled with grading papers and forming the next day’s lesson plans. “He has an excellent prognosis,” Shivnani said.

He can get back to – or simply continue – all that mathematical and scientific stuff.

Follow Chris Beattie on Twitter for constant news updates

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