May 2008 Newsletter (UWGB Institute for Learning Partnership)
Nick Nesvacil and His Preble ‘Sting Cancer’ Group Offers Pain Relief
How do you engage and mobilize 200 high school students toward a specific cause? Ask Preble High School teacher Nick Nesvacil. The recent UWGreen Bay Master’s Degree graduate is writing a book on it.
His triumph over tragedy story began while the Denmark, Wis. native was a sophomore at St. Norbert College. A sudden onset of blurred vision and headaches led to a brain tumor diagnosis. And because of the location of the tumor, the prognosis for recovery was slim. Even worse, doctors told Nesvacil that aside from the tumor’s aggressiveness, he also suffered a stroke and a meningital infection during his initial surgery that would kill him if the cancer didn’t.
“In effect, they told me if the brain cancer didn’t kill me,something else would,” Nesvacil said. He sought a second opinion and located a neurosurgeon specializing in his particular kind of cancer. Based on the MRI, and the surgeon’s past success, Nesvacil’s chances of survival with surgery increased to 50-50.
“After a 7 1/2 hour surgery the surgeon came running up and hugged my siblings and dad, saying ‘I got it! I got it!’. I ended up having a stroke in my first surgery that caused a lazy eye and short-term memory loss. But with chemotherapy and radiation, neuro, occupational, speech and physical therapy, I made my way back.”
It’s his personal story that helps Nesvacil connect with the more than 200 students and staff members that now make up “Sting Cancer,” the Preble High School student organization that works to reduce the effects of, and offers support to, families battling cancer.
Four years ago, Nesvacil initiated the organization with 20 members. It has grown to about 215 members and 12 advisers, and is believed to be the largest student-organized cancer awareness group in the nation.
Why so popular?
“Because of the effects of cancer, I’m bald and I have an array of scars on my head,” jokes Nesvacil. “I guess I’m a lightening rod for questions. When students hear my story, they share their own. I would imagine there are very few students at Preble not affected by cancer in some personal way.”
Now in its fourth year, the organization has been featured in the local media and on Wisconsin Public Television. The group raises awareness and financial support for cancer patients with merchandise sales and a few big events such as Family Fun Day, the Jack Drankoff Run/Walk and the Sting Cancer Dinner Gala.
Group members also take on tasks that might seem trivial — buying groceries or raking leaves — but are a huge relief to families trying to cope with the day-to-day struggles of dealing with the disease and its effects. Sting Cancer has helped approximately 100 -125 families, Nesvacil estimates, about 90 percent of those directly related to Preble families.
“When Nick came to me with the idea, I told him to make sure he had enough members for it to be viable and lasting,” said Preble Principal Chris Wagner, Ph.D. “I never dreamed how many students and staff had a need for this particular organization. It has grown appreciatively.” The organization has grown so drastically, that individual teams have been created to accomplish specific objectives; events, publicity, outreach, etc., with a special eye to expansion.
“Our ‘Team Advancement’ is looking at why we’re the only organization of its kind,” Nesvacil said. “And we’re working on trying to get area middle schools and high schools to start their own Sting Cancer groups.” Nesvacil and his team also dream of similar organizations across the United States. Success at any level would be just one of many victories for this local educator who has a history of showing others how to turn tragedy into triumph.
Master’s Student, Then Author
Master’s Thesis Provides Outline for Nesvacil’s Book Preble teacher Nick Nesvacil was advised early in his master’s degree program at UW-Green Bay to research a topic he is passionate about. There is little in his life he is more passionate about than Sting Cancer — a 200-member strong cancer-support group at Preble High School.
“My thesis adviser, Linda Tabers-Kwak, was persistent in her message to research an area we were most passionate about,”Nesvacil said. As adviser of Sting Cancer, he began documenting the group’s activities, and before he knew it, the work for his master’s thesis
became the outline for a book that he hopes to have published in the near future. Now about 75 pages in length, the book is “essentially a 22-page lesson plan on how to institute a program such as Sting Cancer, with standards, objectives and methods,” Nesvacil said.
It will include his personal battle with the illness (see above story), and the history and evolution of Sting Cancer, now believed to be the largest support group of its kind in the nation. Nesvacil hopes to inspire other like groups both in the region, and across the United States.
For more information on the Master’s Program in Applied Leadership for Teaching and Learning, call 920-465-2003, or visit the Insitute for Learning Partnership Web site at www.uwgb.edu/ learnpart. The program is now enrolling a fall 2008 cohort.