“Once doctors reached the diagnosis, I felt every emotion possible — anger, sadness, relief to have answers — but I had a very hard time accepting that my life was forever changed,” Swanson explained. When doctors told her she would probably need to quit her job, she recalled, “That’s the moment I finally accepted my diagnosis, but also the moment I knew I had to fight this battle, making it my mission to prove the doctors wrong. And that’s exactly what I did.”
Severe fatigue, skin lesions, headaches, and shortness of breath are just some of the symptoms of Lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that causes your immune system to attack healthy tissue and organs.
Carlisle installed special light filters in her classroom, and other teachers took her class outside for recess, as heat, sunlight and fluorescent lighting can exacerbate symptoms. Parents kept their children home if they showed any sign of sickness, since Swanson’s immune system was so fragile. They even organized a Lupus Walk to show their support.
“Any other school system probably would have seen me as a liability, and the fact Carlisle valued me enough to make these adjustments means more than I can put into words,” Swanson said.
Her 4-year old students were probably her biggest supporters. Constant flares and immunosuppressants resulted in her skin looking blotchy and either purple or bright red, she explained. But they would tell her constantly how beautiful she looked.
“My students have shown me what unconditional love truly means. They handled my ‘ugly’ side effects with more grace and class than most adults,” Swanson said.
During this time, Swanson continued to excel at her job, employing her self-described structured and hands-on teaching style.
“I believe all students can learn, just not the same way,” she said. “I expose them to numerous methods of learning, meeting each child’s needs.” One such method is music; “Four year olds can learn anything, if it’s put to a song.”
When her students learned that she was going to New York City to see Hamilton on Broadway, they of course wanted to hear the music and fell in love. Hamilton became a daily part of their class.
“We incorporated Hamilton into everything we did,” she explained. “The kids were soon able to tell me when and where the Battle of Yorktown took place, who Lafayette was, were able to explain the Election of 1800,” and so on.
All the while Swanson continued to fight the mental and physical challenges of Lupus, and received an additional diagnosis of blood cancer (polycythemia vera) this past April.
For their graduation ceremony, it was only fitting that her students performed a song from Hamilton, a performance that has since gotten a lot of attention from the media. Ever since Swanson tweeted the video as part of the #Ham4All viral video challenges, it has been liked by the show’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as the show’s official Twitter handle. Swanson was even interviewed by “Inside Edition,” along with numerous local media outlets.
“I am biased, so of course I thought it was amazing,” Swanson said of their graduation performance, “but to have others affirm this shows it really is remarkable. I do not know many four year olds who can discuss American History, so this really is amazing. After all of their hard work, they certainly deserve the recognition!”