Samantha England: A Portrait of Perseverance Summit Country Day Teacher Educates While Battling Cancer
By Rebecca Sontag
There are a thousand excuses for not making your own artwork. But the kids love to see what you can do. It brings a level of authenticity to your classroom also. The whole thing just worked out amazingly.” –Samantha England
Samantha England had more than a thousand reasons for not focusing on her own art in the summer of 2018. She was gearing up and getting organized for her second year of teaching at Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati and finalizing preparations for her wedding. But just three weeks prior to marrying her husband, Michael, and before the start of school, Samantha was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, turning her whole world inside out.
With that diagnosis came uncertainty, fear and grief. Would she be able to keep her job? Would Michael still want to marry her? Was breast cancer going to steal her young life? Yes. Yes. And no.
Never before in Samantha’s life had this particular character strength been so meaningful. Yet, it was on a whim that she grabbed her pastels and paper on the way out the door to keep her mind and hands occupied for that first eight-hour session of chemotherapy. At the end of that grueling day, she had drawn a beautiful loaf of challah to give to her best friend who had been a tremendous support from the very beginning.
That is how Samantha England decided to complete her own capstone project on perseverance, just like her students. She drew donuts for Jen, an apple for her teacher friends, and pizza for her husband. At the end of each session of chemo, England had a work of art expressing her gratitude and love. Each piece, six in total, was a gift to those who had been so staunch and steadfast in their support of their friend, sister, daughter, wife, colleague and patient.
As for “authenticity in the classroom,” England delivered. When she lost her hair, she still kept teaching. When she felt terrible and exhausted, she kept drawing. When her immune system was practically wiped out, her students slathered on the hand sanitizer and kept learning.
Virtues of character are not something that one takes on and off like a mask that keeps germs at bay– something to be removed when no longer needed. The very notion of the word “perseverance” demands that it keeps going. To persevere is an inextricable part of who Samantha England is. She completed her six sessions of chemo and she presented her capstone project, but she is not finished.
When people ask England, “What are you working on next?” she has an answer. She will continue to advocate for and manage her own health. She will grow and develop as both an artist and a teacher. She will not, however, stop there.
England has a new-found passion for promoting art therapy. She feels called to, “remind women that they need to stand up for themselves and promote their own health.” She plans on combining her works into a showing that includes a mammography van onsite to provide mammograms for women who might not otherwise have access to them. She wants to share the love and support that she herself received in abundance as she persevered.
“I didn’t go through this alone,” said England. “None of this is easy, but I’m just happy to be here.”