Still standing: Nursing professor with cancer carries on teaching, inspires students
When University of Missouri–St. Louis nursing students showed up for the spring semester and the first day of their Adult Health 1 course, they expected to get the syllabus, but they didn’t expect what came next.
Mike Bovier, assistant teaching professor in the College of Nursing, told his class he had cancer. The diagnosis came in late fall of 2015, but he refused to let the illness pull him away from the classroom.
“We were actually surprised that he was still going to go through the semester,” senior Terri Hickman said. “He was about to go through chemo, but he promised he was still going to be here every day.”
“And he stuck with it,” classmate Travis Wool said. “He told us from the beginning, he expects us to come to class because he holds himself to high accountability, and he wants us to do the same.”
It sounds unimaginable, but Bovier didn’t miss a single Monday or Wednesday lecture, not even after his treatment kicked in full force in February.
“I experienced excruciating pain on lecture days with intense symptoms during and shortly after my chemotherapy,” he said. “But my kids, my students, were with me every step of the way. I was an open book with them as I recovered from surgery and then chemotherapy.”
Some may question Bovier’s choice, but he found it more beneficial for all involved parties.
“I chose to be candid with my kids to help them make connections between the topics I was lecturing on, including cancer,” he said. “I realized I would be giving them a rich experience from the patient perspective.”
His students appreciated the up-front approach as well.
“He taught us that there can be major strength in vulnerability,” Hickman said. “He laid himself out and what he was going through. He wasn’t afraid to cry. But he also wasn’t going to let it keep him down. Keep going. That was the message. The man is amazing.”
Bovier’s dedication to teaching his students, not just about nursing, but about the importance of human connection, has made a lasting impression as well. Hickman will forever remember him showing up to her clinical site and praying with her patients.
“He’s definitely going to change the way I do my nursing. Period,” she said. “He showed me a whole new level of empathy because of what he’s gone through.”
“He represents everything we’re taught that nurses should be,” Wool said. “It’s truly inspiring – his dedication and his commitment to consistently help others.”
And his students emulated his giving nature, often helping Bovier carry his books and helping him to his car.
“Anything we could do to make his life easier,” senior Nicole McDonald said. “He was giving us so much.”
If Bovier needed to get a message out to the class, they would do so on his behalf. The students agreed – everyone pulled together like family.
“The fact that I received so much support from this cohort from the beginning of the semester until now has given me a reason to get up and move forward in the light of pain, discomfort and immobility.”
And on April 25, all efforts paid off.
“He had a new spring in his step that day,” Hickman said. “ He kept lifting his cane and pointing to the board. I was thinking ‘He seems really chipper today.’”
“We were all on this journey with him,” McDonald said, “so we were constantly wanting to know how he was doing. As soon as lecture was over, he flipped up the board and it said ‘REMISSION’ in really big caps on the chalkboard. We all cheered and there were some tears shed.”
McDonald also took the lead on planning a special surprise for Bovier a week later.
“I remembered him telling me that at night he suffered from tinnitus from chemo,” she said. “So when he would go to sleep, he would listen to Elton John ‘I’m Still Standing.’ We brought a boom box in, and we’re going to play it for him at the end of our last lecture. It’s a great song. So upbeat and powerful. What better way to honor and celebrate him.”
“He’s a rare and special person,” Wool said. “We all will never forget him.”
Bovier has surveillance cancer tests every three months and will continue to teach in the College of Nursing at UMSL.
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