ABOVE: Jeremy Kirk, associate professor of music, is captured with percussion instrument. (Contributed Photo)
By Daegiona Wilson
It began with chest pains which led to a telehealth conference with his doctor. What he thought might have been a lingering effect of COVID-19, was something much greater.
Jeremy Kirk, associate professor of music, was diagnosed with stage IIIC testicular cancer in November.
Since then, things have looked quite different for the music educator. The infection has spread throughout his entire body.
“The CT scan showed a very large mass, 10 centimeters, which is a very large mass to have next to the heart area. Then also there was other large masses in the abdomen, neck and clavicle area.”
Kirk said, “It’s a very aggressive cancer, and I have a very aggressive treatment for it.”
After surgery to try to eliminate as much of the tumor as possible, he began chemotherapy. This consists of four 21-day cycles of treatment.
Despite this, he finds a way to continue his passion of teaching.
On the days he spends 6-8 hours receiving treatment, he uses the time to prep for his courses.
Introduction of World Music takes up most of his teaching time. Since Kirk isn’t able to be there in person. “I’m able to find a lot more valuable reading resources and text, that helps students connect more.”
Kirk said he does wish that his students had the chance to connect physically with the course, as he really focuses on sub-Saharan African culture. Not being able to play drums, jimbay, or even learn how to hula dance, lack the hands on experience the course offers. However, his plan is to give students enough information so that when he is back on campus, they can experience the physical aspect of the class in his drum ensemble.
He is also teaching Composition this semester, using zoom for class.
Kirk said, “Composition is working with screen sharing, sharing pieces and a lot of piggybacking ideas.”
Joefirkus Giat, music senior, said, “He encourages exploration, collaboration and discussion rather than a lecture when learning. He’s always up for helping students if they have troubles or problems understanding something. He also likes to crack jokes and share his point of view and experiences.”
“He is a very passionate person, both as an educator and as a musician.”
Private lessons and music ensemble are courses that Kirk has had to eliminate this semester due to the in-person contact they require.
Kirk is also the division chair for the Performing Arts division. There are some responsibilities he has had to delegate, and Miranda Hofmeister, faculty assistant for the division, has been helping.
The day-to-day operations he is able to handle remotely.
Allyson Moon, associate professor of speech and theater, said “I am amazed that he is continuing even as he is fighting his own battles.”
Incoming freshman auditioned for Performing Arts the last weekend of January and the first weekend of February. Moon said “Because of some work he did in the background and because of Miranda’s organizational skills and Dr. Peterson’s we were fine.”
“He’s continued to say ‘just call me. If you need something and maybe I can’t take care of it right now, but I will get it, I will take care of it.’ And he does.”
Beyond the day to day, Kirk is helping the faculty prepare for the future. Martin Rude, director of worship outreach, spoke about plans for performances. “He wants to rethink but he must pay attention to his first priorities.”
He began his third round of chemo this week.
When Kirk feels well, he uses his down time for things he enjoys. He’s been composing and has been able to play a bit.
“My energy levels have gotten back up some. It gives me motivation to stand up, get behind a marimba and learn pieces that way.”
Along with marimba, he has a steel drum, piano, and a practice pad.
“I do have difficulty sometimes due to the side effects of chemo. My finger tips are very sensitive and they burn at times, so I have had to adjust playing technique to deal with that. It is just something I am living with right now, but still being able to enjoy myself making music.”
Kirk will finish chemo in late March. After that he and his doctor will reevaluate what needs to happen, whether this means more surgeries, or possible radiation therapy.
“I just really appreciate all the support. I know a lot of people are sending lots of positive vibes, prayers, mana, and good energy out there and it really does make a difference to know that you have good people in your corner like that.”