'Daddy Draheim' copes with stage four cancer
Heather Brown, The Oklahoma Daily
AT A GLANCE
Definition of renal cell carcinoma
Cancer that forms in the lining of very small tubes in the kidney that filter blood and remove waste products.
Source: The cancer.gov website
The week before the semester started, while students excitedly were unpacking their bulging suitcases and perfectly arranging their lives for a new fall semester in Norman, professor Steven Draheim was sitting in a doctor’s office being bombarded with the wrecking ball-like phrase: “You have cancer.”
“On the Monday before classes started, I was here at school, just preparing my lectures and lessons,” Draheim said, motioning around his office.
“And two days later they say, ‘You have an incurable disease.’”
Draheim, who is a professor of lighting design in the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts, was diagnosed Aug. 15 with Stage IV renal cell carcinoma: A cancer of the kidney, practically immune to chemotherapy, that has spread to surrounding areas and organs — or in Draheim’s case, a 13-square-centimeter tumor in his right kidney that has infected his liver, lungs and lymph nodes.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the disease is difficult to detect and has been diagnosed in more than 60,000 Americans this year alone. In spite of the mountain of a speed bump thrown at him, Draheim has persisted to teach this fall and has no plans to stop.
“I only have one speed now, which I call ‘Turtle Speed,’” Draheim joked, yet noting the physical toll his pill-form targeted medication has had on him. “But the way I see it, I’d rather be here, teaching and helping students, than at home reading books.”
Teaching two classes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Draheim said the adjustment to having cancer and working has been a bit of a test; one of his challenges three days a week is to make it to his office on the top floor of a building void of any elevator.
However, he has made those adjustments by learning not to live with his condition alone.
“My colleagues, Director Tom Orr, have all just been so supportive and fabulous through this process,” Draheim said patting the comfy couch upon which he was sitting — a gift other professors of the department situated in Draheim’s office for him to be able to rest and relax upon between classes.
Draheim continuously remarked fondly upon the close sense of family within the College of Fine Arts, along with the special, supportive relationships he has built with his students over the years.
“Truthfully, one of the main reasons I came back to work was for the kids,” Draheim said.
As he recalled recent conversations he had with several of his students, Draheim said his current situation enabled him to teach in a way that had not been previously possible.
“So you’ve got a disease that you can’t cure right away, that doesn’t mean that life just stops,” Draheim recalled from a recent talk he had with a student. “It doesn’t mean you have to believe that it’s the end of everything. It’s just a different plan you have to work around and tell yourself, ‘well, maybe I’ll do it this way now.’”
Similarly, Draheim’s diagnosis has in many ways revealed the strong familial-like roots that tie together the students and staff of the College of Fine Arts. Draheim told of a class where two of his students were wearing “Stand Up To Cancer” shirts. With a smile, he said it was a moment he was deeply touched by.
“In the electrical shop, we call Steve ‘Daddy Draheim’ because he takes care of us as if we are his own kids and cares about our well beings,” theatrical design senior Leahe Knott said. “Steve is a huge part of my life and someone I can rely on, and now we, as a family, have to be someone he can rely on.”
Although the extent to which Draheim’s cancer has spread is not the most conducive to treating the disease, his doctors (including some of the top physicians in the country at MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston) remain positive they can deal with and address the situation.
With a probable kidney removal surgery scheduled for next summer, Draheim plans to take on a similar course load in the spring. In addition, he also is designing the lighting for the school’s first show in February, a project he is excited about because he is working with his students.
“Although I’ve had a little curveball thrown at me, the outpour of support I’ve received has been incredibly helpful and nurturing,” Draheim said on approaching what lies ahead for him. “I think the tightness of our school and students here has helped me stay positive about continuing working, teaching and designing.”