UW-Madison Dean Lori Berquam's Light
University of Wisconsin-Madison student and UW Health marketing intern Emily Klode recently met with Dean of Students Lori Berquam to learn about how a breast cancer diagnosis has affected Berquam's perspective on life.
Last month I trudged up Bascom Hill to meet the Dean of Students the way many students do: head down, avoiding eye contact and intent on my goal: meeting with the Dean of Students Lori Berquam.
Our Dean was diagnosed with breast cancer last spring. She’s just finished six rounds of chemotherapy at UW Health, where I worked as a marketing and communications intern this summer. While I struggled to learn more about breast cancer for a marketing campaign, her struggle was more intense – dealing with the disease.
Everyone deals with cancer differently, but for many, it changes how they view the world and their life in it. For Dean Berquam breast cancer changed the way she sees Bascom Hill.
For starters, it has made her more present. Rather than dwell on what she was going through and close herself off from the world, she came to work and made it a point to be there even throughout her chemotherapy treatments. Nodding to a couch in the corner of her office, she told me about the quick naps she would have to take after lunch when the chemo fatigue hit.
Dean Berquam said that cancer changed her to be much more fully present and aware. She realized she didn’t know half the things that people are going through. She spoke of her surprise at the number of students who came to her with stories of how cancer has touched their lives after announcing her diagnosis. She was stunned, but she would have never known because we don’t talk about it. We don’t acknowledge it.
Dean Berquam wants us to speak up, just like she did. She wants us to remind each other that we’re not alone, rather than to hide what we’re feeling. We sing our alma mater and link arms, she said. And that’s how we need to be about cancer. That’s the visual. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they should know that they are a part of this human chain that is so incredibly strong. It unites us in a fight together.
On campus and in life, we walk around without a real clue what everyone else is going through. We keep our heads down and we try to avoid eye contact as we walk our hills alone.
Would we treat people differently if we knew the way cancer has touched them? Would we speak with more compassion? Would we stop halfway up our own hill to notice all the people climbing it with us?
Dean Berquam reminded me that we don’t know what’s going on in the lives of the people walking up Bascom Hill. She talked about how we don’t know what they are thinking about and what weighs heavy on their heart. But it’s that whole act of compassion and kindness – saying hello, greeting each other with a smile – as simple as it is, you don’t know how that could be uplifting to someone and how that could change their day just by sharing that.
I walked out of my dean’s office thinking about my summer internship. Part of our awareness campaign is illuminating the entrance of University Hospital with pink lights. People can reserve a light for $10 to help patients in need. I’ll be thinking about the money we raise to help breast cancer patients with what weighs heavy on their hearts. I will think about the pink light I reserve in honor of Dean Berquam, who has inspired me to have more compassion.
An hour later, I walked back down, looking at my fellow students with more curiosity. What are they struggling with in their lives?
To reserve a light for Dean Berquam or someone else you know who has been touched by breast cancer, visit uwhealth.org/pink.
Date Published: 09/28/2017