Robert Goodman was fighting cancer when he realized that he had used up all of his sick days. But the teacher had several chemotherapy sessions left. So he sent out an impassioned plea – and what happened next blew him away.
Goodman has been teaching history at Palm Beach Gardens Community High School for 23 years. In his spare time, he is passionate about music and loves to perform. He describes himself as a “teacher by day, singer-songwriter by life.”
The high school had more than 2,700 students enrolled for the 2016 to 2017 year. It is revered for its athletics and has produced many professional football and baseball players. Palm Beach Gardens Community High School also has a renowned medical magnet program.
Every day, Goodman would wake up at 5:00 a.m. and begin his history lessons by 7:20 a.m. But in April 2018, he received some devastating news. Doctors told the 56-year-old that he had stage III colon cancer.
“It was terrifying,” Goodman told CNN. But despite his fears, the teacher decided to start sharing his experience on social media in the hope that it might help others. “It was the easiest way to let people know how I was feeling and at the same time inspire people who were going through something similar,” he explained.
Goodman began treatment right away at Tomsich Health and Medical Center. He had surgery on May 4 and has required chemotherapy a minimum of twice a week. And the teacher was having bad side effects. “It felt awful. Each chemo treatment takes at least a week for me to feel just 70 percent,” he told ABC News.
As a result, he had to take a significant amount of time off work. By July, he had used up 38 sick days. However, the district’s catastrophic sick leave policy couldn’t be implemented until the 51st day.
But Goodman didn’t know how he’d be able to return to work. “It just happened to coincide with when summer began too, so I had just enough days to make it through the surgery recovery, and then I had to start chemo in June and throughout the entire summer,” he said to ABC News. “I have never had the energy for a full day.”
Despite his condition and the negative effects of his ongoing treatment, Goodman was supposed to be back in the classroom on August 6. He worked out that he would need another 20 days of sick leave. So the desperate teacher turned to social media for assistance.
In late July, Goodman shared a photo on Facebook and begged his coworkers to come to his aid. “If I can get 20 more sick days from any teacher or district employee volunteers that would allow me to take more time to recover in battle through chemo for 12 weeks which should be enough time for me to complete at least the treatment,” he wrote. “If any of my teacher friends are out there spread the word for me I would appreciate it thank you so much.”
The cancer patient asked if those working in the education sector would consider donating a sick day to give him the time off he needed. Goodman added, “If not I’ll be reporting back to work on August 6 and I will never have another opportunity to apply for the leave of absence. Thank you all either way for your support during this time in my life.”
Goodman was hoping that some people he knew might help him out so that he wouldn’t have to return to work while still going through his treatment. But he never expected what happened next. Within just four days, the school advised Goodman that he had an entire semester worth of leave.
“They donated sick days of theirs, which is going to help me and allow me not to go bankrupt and allow me to heal in peace,” he said to ABC News. “This would give me an opportunity to also have my mind be clear from the chemo. It takes a long time.”
The high school notified Goodman that he had 75 days of sick leave available, although a final number would be confirmed once he had completed the relevant correspondence. And when the teacher found out, he was amazed at the generosity of others. “In four days, to basically have an entire community throw their love at you, it’s extremely overwhelming,” he revealed.
After hearing his story, people from all over the United States who contribute towards the retirement system in Florida added days to Goodman’s sick leave balance. It included everyone from fellow teachers to lunchroom workers – and many of them had never even met him. “I couldn’t believe it happened so fast,” he told CNN.
Goodman added, “Educators all over the country were reaching out to me to donate their sick days, even professors over at Florida Atlantic University. I felt guilty because I knew there were people who had it much worse than me.” But he admits he “wasn’t surprised” those within his profession wanted to champion his cause.
“Teachers are always giving all the time,” Goodman said. “When one of their own needs help, they’ll always step up.” And people who weren’t able to offer leave to the patient still showed their support.
Goodman revealed to ABC News that several of his pupils had reached out with words of encouragement. He is now looking forward to the day that he will be well enough to return to work. “Students sharing stories of how I’ve positively influenced them was a good reminder of why I chose to teach and why I can’t wait to get back,” he said.
Goodman’s battle against cancer carries on, and he shared on August 24, 2018, that after seven chemotherapy sessions, he had another four to go. And this experience has helped him to stay positive amid his treatment. “I don’t want anyone to experience cancer or anything bad, but I would love all people to experience that kind of love thrown on you at once,” he told ABC News.
The teacher hopes that his story will encourage people to stay on top of their health checks – and that it will also serve as a reminder that a little kindness can go a long way. “Anybody can get cancer, but not everyone is willing to help,” Goodman said to CNN. “We all have it in us, but it’s good to get back in touch with our compassion.”