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Raising Heller

If you go looking for professor Peggy Heller, you’ll find her office door reads: “extended medical leave.” The FYP director left suddenly in january, and since then she’s had little contact with the King’s community. The watch sat down with Heller in her to talk about her health, her plans, and what she misses about King’s.

If you go looking for professor Peggy Heller, you’ll find her office door reads: “extended medical leave.” The FYP director left suddenly in january, and since then she’s had little contact with the King’s community. The watch sat down with Heller in her to talk about her health, her plans, and what she misses about King’s.
The Watch: It really feels like you’re missed on campus. I think we’d all like to know how you’re doing.
Peggy Heller: Well I have cancer and I guess it’s more serious than was thought at the beginning. so what the initial idea was is I would have an operation and I’d be away for three months and I’d come back at the end of the term and help wrap things up. But the way its turned out, I’ve needed more extensive treatment, so I’m going to be on this sick leave for six months and not able to participate in the year-end reviews and all that sort of thing. so I feel… not guilty, because it’s not my fault, but I feel bad about the burden that has been put on (acting FyP director) Daniel Brandes and (assistant FyP director) Thom Curran. But also I think all my colleagues have been fantastic about stepping up to the plate and taking on the burden of doing it.
TW: Has it been frustrating?
PH: It has been frustrating. You know, I had various plans for a sick leave where I wouldn’t be so sick that I couldn’t do anything, but I actually have been sick so it’s been annoying.
TW: So you’re feeling somewhat better now?
PH: I go up and down, like one week I’m down and another week I’m up but this week I’m up…. so it’s really one of these one day at a time things, because you think you want to be on this graph where every day you’re better, but it’s more like a zigzag. The whole thing is rather absurd and odd and unpredictable and I never would have pictured myself quite in this situation.
TW: What have you been up to?
PH: My main activities have been watching DvDs.
TW: you are known for your excellent taste in television.
PH: Well, I find I am mainly interested in light comedies, and I find it hard to watch the news or anything that’s depressing. But one sign of me feeling a bit stronger is I now want to rewatch The Wire. But I certainly could not have faced The Wire in January or February. anything having to do with misfortune or anything I just couldn’t handle it. so I’ve built up some psychic reserves. I guess a pleasure I’ve had is I’ve rediscovered intensive reading. now that I don’t look at computer screens all day, I’ve been able to read for hours, just the way I could when I was a teenager, so that’s been quite wonderful…
TW: Anything good?
PH: A lot of detective novels. anything I can do in one go. I have a very large set of Alexander Dumas and I went through that. I reread Jane Austen once a year anyway, so I went through that. you know that kind of thing… I somehow can’t quite face Dostoevsky, but he’s on my shelf.
TW: So you’re at The Wire, not quite at Dostoevsky.
PH: Not quite at The Wire, but I can see the approach. and I’ve been dipping into some of my academic books, so I’m getting stronger that way. It’s odd how illness has this emotional impact. It’s like when you’re really bad with a flu, and there are some things you can face and other things you can’t.
TW: Do you miss King’s?
Ph: I miss my classes. I miss teaching and the students. This isn’t being very articulate, but I don’t miss everything about King’s. I miss kind of the fundamentals. and one thing I really miss is… I never was a singer but I go into the king’s chorus so I got to sing for the first time in my life and it was just fantastic.
TW: Has this changed your perspective on life? on king’s?
PH: I’m somewhat interested in what is happening at king’s, and various people visit or phone me and keep me updated, but I’m not deeply emotionally involved and if I do get emotionally involved it’s frustrating because I can’t be involved practically. So I try not to be too worried about things or too concerned. you know, it’s been an important term at King’s, with getting a new president and all these processes, I’ve had to be passive and so it’s frustrating.
TW: So your leave will be six months now?
Ph: It’s six months and I was on sabbatical. So I’m actually away from the college for a year and a half.
TW: have your plans for your sabbatical changed?
Ph: Well they’ve changed in that I was going to do a fair amount of traveling and now… well, who knows how I’ll feel in September. I did have a plan for my sabbatical first of all to teach a course in Finland in the fall and then go to India. But I now think I just don’t want to risk traveling. Maybe by July I’ll start to feel differently but now I think I’ll just stay here mainly, and write and see what comes up. India is too ambitious.
TW: What are you going to write?
Ph: Well I still haven’t quite turned my thesis into a book; it’s very close so I’m going to finish that up. and I have a couple articles I’ve promised people so these are things that have been ongoing but I haven’t had the time or energy. As FYP director it’s very hard to concentrate on writing because you’re so full of the day-to-day concerns. so it’s really catching up on things I haven’t been able to fully put my mind to for three years, which will be good.
TW: So with the current treatment plan you might be able to go traveling a bit later on?
Ph: I’m hoping so. One thing I’ve found about cancer is everyone’s different. Every disease is different and it’s unpredictable. So you can never get a doctor to tell you what you’re going to feel like in six months. I guess it makes sense, but it’s frustrating. I’m used to planning out my life. I’ve learned this from all the conferences I’ve been to. I like having everything in place a long time beforehand and I know exactly what I’m doing so this idea of just having to be flexible or not knowing what’s coming is hard, it’s very difficult.

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

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