Just like most people, I have read stories about people with cancer and how it destroys their lives. I have seen the statistics of all the deaths that happen every day. And, just like most people, I thought it would never happen to anyone that I knew. I was wrong. Someone that I knew very well and liked very much contracted colon cancer. That person is my band director, Mr. Boitz.
We had just come back into the band room after a rehearsal in which we performed pretty well. We put our instruments away routinely and most of us were just about to leave when he told us to put our stuff down and stay in the band room. "Come on, guys, have a seat," he instructed.
We heeded his directions and sat down in chairs that were specially arranged in four arcs surrounding the director's podium. Instrument shelves lined one side of the room, with all kinds of various objects strewn about randomly. These objects included, along with instruments, music, flip folders, mutes, dirty shoes, and even a few pairs of grimy socks. The other wall was adorned with plaques and trophy cases displaying the vast amount of awards that the band had won in recent years.
There was a large white board on the front wall that had several different announcements written all over it. Opposite the front wall stood cabinets whose purpose was to store drums. Pictures of the band from past years hung above them. People conversed casually as they sat down. Bits and pieces of our field show music was being emitted from the instruments of people who felt they needed some extra practice. The smell of old marching sneakers filled the room. That, mixed with the stench of old food and juice containers, gave the room an unpleasant smell that was often times a subject of complaint among many band members.
"Good rehearsal this morning, guys," said Mr. Boitz, who had been in and out of class the past couple of weeks for some medical procedures that were unknown to us. We accepted his absences without question. "I would like to explain why I have been absent a few times recently," he began, his voice unusually solemn. "I always try to keep my personal life from interfering with band activities, but this time I don't really have a choice."
In the past, he almost always spoke with a cheery attitude and a grin upon his face. We freshmen, as rookies, felt overwhelmed on our first day of band camp. But the way he welcomed us and made us feel at home had eased our apprehensions and most of us had come to like Mr. Boitz very much. However, this time was different, his voice lacked the hint of humor and happiness. It was just quiet. We listened intently, people that were chatting looked up from their conversations to pay attention to what he was saying.
"As you know, I have been out because of medical procedures, and through these procedures, the doctors have found out that I have contracted a form of colon cancer," he explained. "The doctors have found cancerous polyps in my intestines and I will need to get surgery and chemotherapy for treatment," he continued.
The way he said it made the whole situation seem like nothing at all. It must have been one of the most difficult things he had ever done to keep such a positive attitude.
"I will probably be taking a leave of absence to go be with my family in Minnesota for the treatment." Again, just the way he talked and kept a straight face prevented any of us from crying, and I believe that if his tone of voice were any different, there would have been several tears shed that morning, including mine.
"I will try to make it to the end of the marching season and I'm confident that I will," he told us, "but you never know," he added. I looked up at him sitting the chair. I could barely see his voice above the people in front of me. Very short, slightly curly, light brown hair covered his head. He wore small, round glasses that made him look like the teacher every child imagines on their first day of school.
"My older brother had a similar disease a few years ago, and he's fit as a fiddle. He's the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, so I know that I'll be fine," he said. Several people sniffled softly and let out groans of sadness. Why had this happened to Mr. Boitz? What had he done to deserve such a horrible disease? And why so young? Some would say that he had barely begun to live and experience many of life's wonderful things.
"Come on, guys, it's just a colon, I'll be fine," he reassured with a smile. He had that special way of making people feel better. It was very difficult to get into a bad mood around Mr. Boitz; he knew how to get his point across and how to motivate us without seeming mad. I started to ask something, and it looked like several others wanted to also, but right then he stood up. "All right, class dismissed," he announced, turning and walking up the steps toward his office.
Most of the band didn't move. We were still trying to accept what our band director, the beloved Mr. Boitz, had just told us. The bell rang, signaling that the period was over, snapping many people out of their reveries. We got up and started heading toward the doors, just like most every day. But there was something missing, the chatter and the hustle and bustle usually associated with the band room was not there. An aura of sadness filled the room like dense, misty fog.
As I walked to my next class, I thought about what Mr. Boitz had just said. Now that he had this disease, would our music department fall apart? Would he actually be able to beat the cancer like he so confidently professed? Questions like those kept running through my mind. The reality had finally set in. Something terrible happened to someone that I knew very well.
I continued to ask myself scary questions. What would happen after Mr. Boitz took his leave of absence? Would he ever come back? Would the people in the music department just stop trying because he was gone? Who would take his place? Would he or she be able to replace Mr. Boitz? And if they did, would we proceed to just forget about him? All these thoughts swirled through my mind, turning it into a very dense cloud of confusion and worry.
I was sure of one thing, however, and that was that the marching band had just a few competitions left, and I knew that we would work our butts off to make these last weeks our wonderful director, Mr. Michael Boitz, ever had. And we did.
This is a true story. Mr. Boitz did not make it to the end of the marching season. However, he has had successful surgery and the doctors feel very good about his condition.