By Dani Moritz-Long
Something was wrong; she knew something was wrong. Her body was telling her. Her heart was telling her. Her family was telling her. Her general practitioner, however, was not.
After months of complaining of various abdominal and digestive issues, Kourtney Baldwin’s doctor continued to assure her she was fine — diagnosing her with Colitis, a common, manageable condition, instead of uncovering the real source of her declining health. Finally, with encouragement from her family, Kourtney had enough. She taught her West Campus class in the morning and drove herself to Florida Hospital — desperate for answers and reprieve. She never could have imagined what would come next.
A CT scan, or computed tomography scan, revealed an abnormality in her colon. Subsequently, a colonoscopy caused further concern.
Doctors confirmed the worse. Only nine months after the removal of a brain tumor, Kourtney was once again in a fight for her life. In July 2017, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and, less than 24 hours after her diagnosis, she was wheeled into surgery to remove her colon, part of her fallopian tube and 30 lymph nodes.
A week later, she returned to the classroom — eager to put the traumatic experience behind her. But, her cancer story wasn’t over. Despite the doctors’ best efforts to prevent the cancer from spreading, it did spread to one of her lymph nodes, leaving Kourtney with stage three cancer and a treatment plan that included three months of chemotherapy.
But, not even cancer could stop Kourtney from doing what she loves. She continued to teach half-time throughout her cancer treatment.
It wasn’t easy, she explained, but it was worth it.
“It was one of the best semesters I taught,” she said. “I informed students of what I was going through, and they were very gracious and accommodating.”
Sometimes, she’d have to sit during a lecture. Some days, she couldn’t even drive to campus — so her dad would chauffeur her to class and sit in her office while she taught. Fortunately, she says, her biological family, church family and her Valencia family offered her full support as she battled cancer and, ultimately, won.
As of Thursday, December 28, 2017, Kourtney was cancer free.
Since then, she’s been inspired to tell her story and share the lessons she learned, so others don’t have to learn the hard way.
“Be proactive about your body,” she warned. “If doctors give you a diagnosis and it’s not helping, you need to seek additional help. Your body has a way of telling you that something is wrong; it’s up to us to listen to these physical symptoms that your body is telling you about. We [full-time employees enrolled in Valencia insurance plans] are really blessed to have good insurance that we should take advantage of.”
As an example, she explained that most people are not given colonoscopies until they’re 50 years old, and many people under 50, like herself, frequently have symptoms dismissed if they have no family history of colon cancer. By the time they are diagnosed, they’re often faced with stage three or four cancer. And — the sad reality is — sometimes that’s too late.
For those who have been diagnosed with cancer, though, Kourtney says the key is building a support system, maintaining faith and hope, finding a sense of normalcy and surrounding yourself with a medical team you’re comfortable with. With these tools, she explained, it’s possible to fight and beat cancer.
“It doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” she said. “People do survive and miracles do happen.”
A survivor herself, Kourtney, who has a master’s degree in architecture and a bachelor’s degree in design, has since resumed her full attention to her full-time teaching role as a professor of architecture on the West Campus — a job she absolutely loves.
“Architecture is a demanding, rigorous major,” she said. “It is not easy. Each class period, we challenge our students to think outside the box and to communicate these concepts in two-dimensional and three-dimensional components such as drawings and models. It is a great accomplishment when my students begin to understand architectural concepts and can effectively communicate them in sections, plans, axonometrics, etc. It is an honor to be a part of their learning process.”
Remarking on Kourtney’s quality of character, Humanities Professor Vishma Kunu said, “She is not only a spectacular example of a human being, but an example of professionalism in her area of expertise, architecture.”
Her supervisor, Dean of Arts and Humanities Ana Caldero Figueroa, added, “She cares deeply about students and works with them at all levels helping, supporting and celebrating their accomplishments. Kourtney has a great deal of passion for teaching and is always enthusiastic about serving students. She supports the mission of the department and works constantly inside and outside of the classroom to expose students to the highest quality of instruction possible. It is an honor to be her dean.”
For more information about Kourtney’s experience as a Valencia educator, view the video below.
Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s Values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.