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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published December 17 2010

Graduating cancer-free: MSUM classes took man’s mind off battle with leukemia

Christopher Bachmeier struggled to get out of bed some days, but he never missed class.

The 31-year-old from Littlefork, Minn., decided to pursue his graduate degree about the same time doctors diagnosed him with leukemia.

Rather than postpone his education, Bachmeier chose to attend Minnesota State University Moorhead, located near his doctor at Fargo’s Roger Maris Cancer Center.

“School was an easy way for me to keep my mind off of being sick,” said Bachmeier, who is now cancer free and received his master’s degree in education leadership Thursday at MSUM.

His wife, Beth, who was among family members at the ceremony Thursday, said she worried that her husband would be taking on too much by pursuing his degree while he was sick.

In addition to juggling his schoolwork for MSUM, Bachmeier is dean of students and athletic director for the Littlefork-Big Falls K-12 School District. The couple also has two children.

“He’s very stubborn, and when he puts his mind into something and wants to do it, there’s no talking him out of it,” Beth Bachmeier said.

Christopher Bachmeier was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005. He continued working as much as possible, traveling to Fargo on Thursdays or Fridays so he could spend the weekends receiving cancer treatments and then return to work on Tuesdays.

When he began the master’s program at MSUM in 2007, Bachmeier was still sick but didn’t tell his professors because he didn’t want special treatment.

“I just didn’t want to put that burden on them,” he said.

The program included online courses, summer courses at MSUM and some classes from North Dakota State University.

Bachmeier spent the months of June living with relatives in Breckenridge, Minn., and attending classes at MSUM.

Some days, he would pull over to the side of the road and collect himself. Other days, he might leave class and come back.

Having survived the toughest days of chemotherapy gave Bachmeier the strength to push forward, he said.

“I’ve found the busier I am, the less my mind is on how I feel,” he said. “School was a nice distraction for that.”

Back home in Littlefork, about 240 miles northeast of Fargo-Moorhead, his wife was busy taking care of their daughter, Kaelyn, who was 3 months old when Bachmeier was diagnosed.

“If I didn’t have my wife, there’s no way any of this would ever work,” Bachmeier said.

The couple decided to have a second child after Bachmeier received a clean bill of health in September 2009. Their son, Brady, was born last summer.

Although Bachmeier has completed the master’s program, he will continue taking classes at MSUM next semester to become licensed as a principal and superintendent.

Bachmeier said he enjoys working in the classroom but he wants to become a principal and a superintendent because he’ll be able to teach the teachers and affect a greater number of students.

Boyd Bradbury, Bachmeier’s adviser at MSUM, said Bachmeier understands how kids learn and best practices for teachers.

“Chris exemplifies the sort of candidate whom we want to produce,” Bradbury said.

Bachmeier said he tried to think about finishing his master’s degree as a marathon.

“You just have to focus on the day to day and not worry about the big, daunting task ahead,” he said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590