Jack Young, dressed in long sleeves at his home, held aloft blue-shaded fingers and explained that his toes look much the same.
Cold. Numb. Both the result of chemotherapy in his fight against cancer.
But Young insists he’s not afraid to die. He fights because he has to. He fights because he enjoys life and the people in it. He fights because he wants to live his last years to the fullest.
”If the chemo works, that extends my life quite a few years,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, then I know where I’m going and I know who’s going to be waiting for me when I get there.”
Young, a beloved chemistry teacher for 34 years at Columbus East High School who left there in 2005, was diagnosed in October 2010 with colon cancer that ultimately spread to his liver. His doctor in May gave Young three to nine months to live, declaring that chemotherapy would afford Young the best quality of life without remission.
The sharp-minded educator remains upbeat, despite having to break his own heart July 30 by acknowledging his physical limitations and retiring from his job as a professor and leader of the chemistry department at IUPUC.
Teaching is what he loves to do. And although he still plans to tutor students and mentor in the Book Buddies program for students lagging in reading skills, he knows he has begun a new phase in life that ends his time as a full-time educator.
Young never cries for himself, though. He cries at the thought of leaving his family and saying goodbye forever to his full-time role of helping shape young men and women into educated adults.
Dozens, if not hundreds, of his students over the years have gone on to become
doctors, pharmacists and chemists. Some of his former students — Young believes he has taught 14,700 students during his career — attended a retirement party for Young on Aug. 12 that drew hundreds of well wishers to Asbury United Methodist Church.
Young won various awards over the years. He was the 2005 recipient of the Edna Folger Teacher of the Year award and in 1999 was selected by USA Today to the All-USA Teacher team
In October, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Board named the new science lab at East High School for Young.
Young’s wife, Priscilla, said she feels blessed to have married a man 44 years ago who gave his life to students and still managed to be a great husband and father. Now, she admires him for the sense of humor and dignity in which he’s fighting the bravest battle of his life.
During an interview last week with The Republic, Young, his wife and their
daughter, Schalan Baker, joked about Young’s prognosis.
“I told Jack that, before you kick off, I want a new stove,” Priscilla said. “After I got that, I told him I want a new sink.”
“This dying thing is getting expensive.”
Schalan joked about her father’s desire to outlive his 12-year-old dog.
“I bury him, he doesn’t bury me,” Young quipped.
Incidentally, Young said he has finalized every detail of his funeral so his family will not have to worry about it when the time comes. His funeral service will be at Asbury United Methodist Church, and his burial will be at Garland Brook Cemetery.
Young said chemotherapy has been the only feature of cancer that ever made him wish he would die and have it over with.
The first year after his diagnosis, his treatments robbed him of feeling in his hands and feet, but otherwise took no physical toll.
He took three months off, then started a far more aggressive chemotherapy that his doctor guaranteed would be one of the worst experiences of his life.
Young felt so lousy the first week that he was unable to get out of bed and thought anything — even death — sounded better than treatment. He gave it another try in May and was out of commission for only a day.
His third treatment saw him on his feet the very next day, working in his yard.
“The doctor called him the healthiest sick person he’d ever dealt with,” Priscilla said.
Young’s former students and friends think a lot of the educator.
Tyler Nolting, a former student of Young’s at East, wrote a song about Young called “A Teacher to Us All” that he plans to sing at Young’s funeral.
Dave Shymkus, who organized the party for Young, said Young is a special friend of about 15 years who has proven himself a wonderful teacher to hundreds of students.
Paige Harden, spokeswoman for Columbus Regional Hospital, was a student of Young’s in 1998 during her sophomore year at East High School. She was his student again in 2001 at IUPUC.
Harden described her professor as an exceptional man and a friend.
“High school and early college can be challenging, because you’re going from a child to an adult,” she said. “When you saw Mr. Young teach, you just knew that he was doing what he loved.
“You say, ‘Wow, I want to find something that I’m that passionate about.’”
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