During the summer of 2018, Joel Snyder, a loved teacher at Southern Huntingdon County High School (SHCHS), was diagnosed with testicular cancer. His treatments began at the end of September and was out of the classroom until he returned in late January.
Snyder’s wife, Lori, was concerned he would not make it through a full school day without becoming too exhausted to continue teaching when he returned full time. Thankfully, the first two weeks this high school math teacher returned had several days impacted by weather leading to cancellations, delays and early dismissals. These adjusted schedules helped Snyder somewhat return to his usual school routine.
The treatments Snyder went through affected him in various ways including mentally and physically.
He shared his experiences of the mental changes stating, “I did not know what people meant by the ‘chemo fog’ until I experienced it myself. There were many times when I was recording math lessons that I had to use a calculator to do simple calculations. On several occasions, I had to redo a video (Snyder produced online lessons to be applied at school during his absence) because I kept making mistakes. Then there were times when I knew what I wanted to say, but I could not seem to get it from my mind to my mouth.” These difficulties did not discourage him; he never gave up when things became hard.
Snyder went through many physical changes as well from losing hair to losing weight. “I found it weird to look into the mirror and see someone else’s reflection. It was not the same person I was used to seeing.” Snyder was admitted to the hospital for chemotherapy on a regular basis with each treatment scheduled for five days. “I actually felt better on those days than the several days when I returned home, but I struggled with terrible acid reflux.”
Snyder said, “I think I was “couch-bound” for at least five days. There were many days that I only moved from the couch to use the restroom.” Even eating food had become difficult for him. “As the treatments continued, it seemed like food tasted more and more like metal. After the first bite of food, I could not really taste anything. Although this has gotten better since the treatments are done, I still have a metallic taste in my mouth from time to time.” Snyder remains strong throughout his treatments and the side effects as he continues to fight the cancer.
Throughout his hard and difficult times, Snyder continued to create videos for his calculus and Advanced Mathematics students so that they could persevere their education while his Geometry students were taught by Sandi Berrier, former math instructor at SHC. “I am grateful that Berrier agreed to facilitate in the classroom as the substitute teacher in my absence and that the school district allowed me to serve in that capacity.” Berrier aided Snyder in many ways, including standing in for him while he was unable to be there for his students physically. Berrier did an amazing job helping students understand the mathematics and answering questions that could not be answered because Snyder was not able.
Snyder has progressively gotten better and continues to fight his illness. “When I met with my oncologist three weeks after my treatments ended, we reviewed scans and blood work. The lymph nodes that were enlarged have returned to normal size.”
Snyder will return to Hershey at the end of March for scans and blood work. The doctors will be trying to see if any clots have not yet dissolved, but hopefully will, and to make sure that cancer has not returned. That procedure will be done every three months for the first year following the treatments. Scans and blood work will be done every four months for the second year following treatments.
Snyder’s return has been a difficult adjustment, but students and teachers are grateful to have him back in the classroom. Joshua Fleck, an SHC freshman geometry student in Snyder’s class, related how thankful he is to have his teacher back in charge of the classroom. “Mr. Snyder does a wonderful job interacting with the students and creating a class that is enjoyable to be a part of. His sense of humor brings the class to life and makes the learning experience more entertaining.”
Joel Snyder, who is not only a teacher, fulfills the role of a father, husband and preacher who is loved by all. “So many people blessed me with words of encouragement, cards, gifts and prayers. Students and teachers at the school made and signed a quilt for me. It was, and still is, an encouragement when I curl underneath it on the couch,” Snyder said, “These acts of kindness have helped my family and me through this difficult journey.”
Snyder’s students and fellow faculty members are ecstatic to welcome him back and can only hope and pray he beats cancer!