“Difficulty is the Spice of Life”: “Lessons for Life” from a teacher fighting pancreatic cancer

“Difficulty is the Spice of Life”: “Lessons for Life” from a teacher fighting pancreatic cancer

Hiroshi Ueno, a teacher at Okinawa Shogaku, speaks to students about his experience battling cancer. (December 18, 2020. Okinawa Shogaku, Kokuba in Naha)

January 8, 2021 Ryukyu Shimpo

Recently, Mr. Hiroshi Ueno, a teacher at Okinawa Shogaku Junior and Senior High Schools, presented “Lessons for Life,” speaking to third-year junior high school students about his own experience battling cancer. Ueno was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2018. His cancer was stage 4, the most advanced form, but with surgery and treatment with anti-cancer drugs, Ueno was able to return to work. He would sometimes speak about his illness during class, but this was the first time he gave a talk focusing on it.

Just before the school team departed for an international competition, Ueno realized that he had jaundice. His doctor recommended immediate hospitalization, but Ueno knew that if he checked into the hospital his students would not be able to go to the competition. He decided to go to the competition in the United States. Upon his return to Japan, a test revealed that he had cancer.

Ueno spoke about the difficulties of his treatment with anti-cancer drugs, for example, losing his sense of taste. He said, “I could feel the rice I put into my mouth, but I couldn’t taste it. It was like eating sand.” The most difficult part, he told students, was “not being able to come to school.”

Cancer education is included in new educational guidelines for junior high school that will be implemented from 2021. Ueno received training in cancer education prior to giving his lecture and he shared what he learned with the students. He explained that there are many varieties of cancer and symptoms are diverse. He also spoke about how cancer can be linked to factors such as viruses, lifestyle, or genetics, but that these are only risk factors. There are also cases where the cause of the cancer is unknown.

He also spoke about the risk of recurrence, saying, “it’s not scary to me now. If it comes back, I’m thinking I’ll name my cancer ‘stubborn brat.’ It’s just something I’ll have to live with.”

To the students, he offered this advice: “In your lives, there may be things that are so difficult that you feel like you want to die. But I want you to remember: difficulty is the spice of life. If you ate delicious cake every day, it wouldn’t be as delicious. It’s delicious precisely because we have sour things and spicy things as well.” He added, “People will eventually die. I want to live my life to the fullest with everything I have.”

(English translation by T&CT and Ellen Huntley)

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