Long-time Rocky math teacher battles cancer but remains positive By Emily Craft Of The Summit Staff

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Many students are wondering what happened to a favorite math teacher at Rocky Mountain College. Robyn Cummings is a beloved math professor here at Rocky She began as a part-time professor as well as working in the Services for Academic Success (SAS) program on campus in 1994. For Robyn, teaching wasn’t always the dream. She’s the youngest of five children and comes from a family of teachers. It wasn’t until junior year of her undergraduate career after she had spent some time tutoring math in college that she decided to become a teacher. 

In September of 2014, she received a dreadful call informing her of the breast cancer diagnosis while standing in the mailroom of Rocky’s student union. The next step was surgery and soon after would be radiation. However, while preparing her for radiation in December of 2014, doctors discovered a tumor in her right lung, seperate from breast cancer. This ceased treatment for the time being and everything became focused on removing the tumor from her lung. During the procedure, the surgeon was unable to find and remove the large tumor despite finding and removing a few smaller ones. She began chemotherapy shortly after which was accompanied by regular CT scans. 

All the while, her husband, Bob, was also facing health-related difficulties of his own. At the age of 16, he was diagnosed with bone cancer, which is known for being extremely aggressive and having low survival rates. Despite the odds, Bob beat cancer and was recovered before meeting Robyn at North Dakota State University in Fargo where they were both attending college. They got married in college and moved to Billings shortly after. Nearly 30 years after his recovery in 2015, Bob began experiencing excruciating pain in his hip and went in for a hip replacement which ended up failing awfully. His hip became infected and caused him to fall terribly ill. They were referred to the Mayo Clinic where he regained his health despite the chronic infection, even currently. 

“It keeps you grounded and you realize what’s important in life,” Robyn says. 

Robyn also began seeing the doctors at Mayo in October of 2015 when they decided to place her back into surgery because the tumor in her lung had actually been growing. At this time, the cancer had also spread to her lymph nodes. The news was delivered to her early in the morning at the hospital. Her husband was not with her at the time so she decided to go for a walk around the hospital as she bore the full weight of this crippling news. After about half an hour of wandering the halls, she came to the conclusion that “just because it spread doesn’t mean it’s a death sentence.”

Through all the sickness and heartache, she says that one thing that continues to keep her so determined is the message of the serenity prayer. The prayer states, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Robyn acknowledges the fact that there will be things outside of her control and that there is no use in wasting anger and frustration on those things. 

Robyn is an avid runner and as she states, she was “determined to run through all of this,” so one month after the surgery, she began running again. She has run five full marathons and seven half marathons prior to the diagnosis, and she is insistent upon becoming the runner she was before cancer. As of right now, she ran her last marathon two weeks after the first cancer diagnosis. 

She was hit with a strange sickness in March of 2019. A CT scan in May revealed a shattered glass opacity in her lungs, which we now know is what COVID lungs look like. A follow-up appointment nearly three months later showed that her right lung had collapsed onto itself. Despite this, she continued to teach with a collapsed lung in August of 2019, which caused her to be very short of breath. Doctors informed her that the best course of action would be to remove her lung to avoid infection.

Robyn continues to stay active by consistently running and pushing herself every day. Due to an ongoing battle to keep up her health, Robyn is unable to be on campus as she is extremely high risk. While the students miss her dearly, it is also understood that her health and safety must be prioritized. However, we are counting down the days until she is able to return to online teaching.

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