When he graduated from Virginia Tech with a master’s degree in horticulture, Paul Stevens was searching for a job, but he has now found his calling — trying to save his life and the lives of those who suffer with him.
Tech alumnus Paul Stevens spent last summer like many other graduates — relentlessly applying for jobs in a less than booming economy.
“I applied for 26 jobs and only got one interview,” Stevens said. Having taught biology at the community college level, Stevens was invited back to Tech to teach freshman biology and gladly took the opportunity, teaching four classes last semester.
Within a few months of teaching, Stevens realized that even teaching would become a challenge. His worries over getting a job in a troubled economy soon seemed trivial as Stevens was faced with finding the strength to get through each day.
“I’d noticed some pain in my hip for a while, and when the doctor took an X-ray, he found a tumor the size of a tennis ball,” Stevens said. “I was immediately taken to Wake Forest hospital.”
After two weeks of tests, Stevens received word of his grave diagnosis: multiple myeloma, cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow.
“It’s very rare for someone my age,” Stevens, 26, said. “The average age is around 60 or 70; they’re calling me a case study.”
With the necessity of beginning treatment as soon as possible, Stevens moved back home to North Carolina to be closer to the hospital. Now in his third cycle of chemotherapy, Stevens cannot deny the severe effect the strong drugs have had on his body.
“The chemicals build up in your body over time, so the longer I go, the weaker I get,” Stevens said. “I’m constantly nauseated, always tired. Just going to the mailbox and back, I get worn out.”
Reducing the number of classes he teaches from four to two this semester, Stevens makes a commute of over two hours for two days each week. “I feel bad that my students only have two days access to me in terms of office hours,” Stevens said.
The frustration he experiences with the inconvenience of a lengthy commute and constant fatigue is rivaled only by the passion he has for teaching and for the university.
“I love Tech and I love the students here. That’s the main reason I’m back,” Stevens said.
He admitted that somehow, despite all of the physical effects, not much has changed for him professionally.
“If anything, I’m more motivated now,” Stevens said. “A lot of people I’m teaching will become doctors and workers in health sciences. Who knows, one of the students in my classes could eventually find a cure for my disease.”
Senior Derek Rose got to know Stevens through his work with the Latter Day Saint Student Association.
“I have been inspired so much by Paul throughout all of this,” Rose said. “I can’t even describe how positive his attitude has been, and I think it’s what has helped him respond so much better than the doctors originally hoped.”
Because of his type of cancer, Stevens’ doctors informed him that he will need a stem cell donor in order survive the destruction that multiple myeloma has caused on his own plasma cells. Rose, now president of the LDSSA, has helped organize a drive with the National Marrow Donor Program to help find a donor not only for Stevens, but for the thousands of cancer patients nationwide who’s lives are depending on finding the right match.
The drive, which was held Thursday in Squires Student Center, aimed at building up the waning donor registry in the New River Valley.
“I think the biggest thing is that no one knows about donating,” Rose said.
Freshman biology major Alex Paulini learned about the drive through Stevens’ biology class.
“Paul is my TA and he told us about this,” Paulini said. “The Tech community cares and can hopefully impact Paul.”