On the frontlines

At-risk teacher opens up about her experience in pandemic


Photo by Peyton Sims

Math teacher Cathryn Diaz sits behind her desk surrounded by disinfectants. Diaz recently battled COVID-19 while also fighting cancer.

Story by Phoebe Neff, copy editor

To math teacher Cathryn Diaz, Room 228 has been the place of her passion for five years. She loves her job and her students. However, this year brought something unprecedented: a deadly pandemic which she now faces almost every day. This is enough to strike fear into many average people, but Diaz isn’t exactly like most others. She is also immunocompromised, meaning that she is more susceptible to COVID-19, but this hasn’t stopped her from doing what she loves for the students that she loves.

What makes you at-risk? I am a cancer patient. I’ve had three cancers in the last eight years, and the third one is unfortunately not curable; we are just keeping it at bay with chemo. I take a chemo pill every day that causes my immune system to be weaker. 

How does it feel being an at-risk individual teaching at school all day? At first, I had a lot of anxiety about it. Some days I worry more than others, but it is worth seeing my kiddos every day. 

How do you feel regarding your safety against the virus at school? I do everything I possibly can to stay safe. Masks are required to be worn in my class at all times, we sanitize and I take lots of vitamins and use essential oils to help keep me and my kiddos protected.

How has teaching in a pandemic affected your life? It has been a challenge. As teachers, we are working double and more from what we had to do in the past. It truly has been a struggle and so very stressful.

Have you ever had any close calls or COVID-19 scares? I actually had COVID in early July. It was a rough few weeks. I am blessed that I didn’t have to be hospitalized. My brother had it at the same time, our whole family did, and he almost died. We were very blessed that he made it through and that our family was able to recover from it. 

Can you go more in-depth about your experience with having COVID-19? Personally, I knew I had it when I couldn’t taste or smell. I still, almost five months later, do not have my taste back to what it used to be and can barely smell anything. I had a fever that would be OK one day but the next would be extremely high. I also had body aches and pains that were as bad as they were when I was doing IV chemotherapy. 

Has having the disease impacted how you view the pandemic? Many people say it is a joke or isn’t a real thing, but it is. I’ve seen close friends and family lose their loved ones to this disease and almost lost my own brother to it. It makes me very angry that people do not take it seriously. 

How has the pandemic changed teaching for you? I am so sad I can’t meet everyone in person. I don’t feel like I can connect with students as well through a computer screen or typing in an email. It hurts my heart that I can’t give my students in class or those remote 100% because we as teachers are spread so thin. I am definitely more anxious about coming to school every day, because you just don’t know what kind of day it will be. I will never regret teaching, even in these times. It is truly my passion, and I love my kiddos, but there are days I dream of flying to Mexico and staying there with my in-laws.

Why did you decide to come to school and teach despite the risk? For you guys, for my kiddos. I love teaching math, it is truly my passion, and I love being surrounded by so many awesome students every day.