Long-time adjunct professor Lalia Tanner leaves positive mark on Biola community
Adjunct professor of English Lalia Tanner isn’t scared of dying — it’s the pain of getting there that bothers her.
“Jesus will just come to get me … I know God will be my comfort,” Tanner said in an email to her colleagues.
Tanner currently in intensive care unit
Tanner has been diagnosed with stage four cancer and has been told she has a year to live. On March 6, Cassandra Van Zandt, dean of humanities and social sciences, sent out an email to the English department informing them Tanner was recently moved to the intensive care unit in an effort to ease her breathing.
Tanner was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, but after treatment the cancer went into remission, according to English professor Christopher Davidson. After contracting what seemed like laryngitis in the fall of 2011, Tanner threw her hip out. Both the laryngitis and broken hip indicated the cancer had returned.
“I just want to say that it has been a privilege for me to work with you and all the staff there. It was an opportunity to see these young people prepare to serve the Lord,” Tanner said in an email to her colleagues.
Reactions from Biola community
The cancer’s abrupt return stunned Tanner’s colleagues and students.
“Before this semester, she attended the department meeting. She announced she had laryngitis so I asked how she was going to teach and she said she’d use a microphone, then a week later her cancer had returned,” said Dale Sprowl, adjunct professor of English and education.
Despite the fatal diagnosis, Tanner is taking things one day at a time, according to Sprowl.
“Her expression of faithfulness, in spite of her fear of the pain, is inspiring and humbling,” Davidson said.
Professor an inspiration to students, colleagues
In light of recent events, Tanner’s past students and colleagues have spoken out in support of her as a mentor and shining beacon of godliness.
“There was a point where she nearly lost her voice but she went on the rest of the semester and never missed a class. Whatever she was going through, she was still there,” sophomore Denise Puerto said. “I was touched by how dedicated she was to her students. I think that’s really important for her students to see. She put her students before she put herself.”
As a professor, Tanner led by example and taught her students in both word and deed, according to sophomores Eddie Moon and Melissa Samsvick. Moon, who also works as a dance teacher, said Tanner’s continual patience and gracious attitude inspired him to extend the same graciousness toward his own students. Samsvick, who is majoring in elementary education, said she would like to model her teaching style after Tanner’s.
“She challenged me personally. Writing hasn’t been my strongest point. At the beginning of the semester I struggled but she was really helpful,” Samsvick said. “For teaching my future students, I learned how to challenge them even when something is hard. She made herself available and I really appreciate that.”
As a colleague and friend, Sprowl noted Tanner is more than a great professor — she is a woman of God who chooses to show God’s love to her students through teaching.
“She was always energetic. She is very dedicated to God. As a colleague and a teacher she just had an unquenchable enthusiasm for teaching her students. She really is a remarkable woman,” Sprowl said.
Davidson described meetings where he and Tanner would discuss how to be effective teachers and how to better integrate faith into their jobs.
“She loved to work, took pleasure in learning from and sharing with her colleagues in staff meetings, and, every time I saw her, expressed unfeigned joy at the privilege of teaching at Biola,” Davidson said. “She really loved it here. I think that joy was infectious, and taught me how good those of us who get to teach something we love have it.”
Tanner left an impression on students and colleagues alike, according to associate professor of English Marc Malandra.
“Lalia’s strong faith makes her inspirationally strong in the face of this ordeal, an attitude that continues to be a blessing to all around her,” Malandra said in an email. “She knows that she will go to a far better place. Biola has unquestionably been a better place due to Lalia Tanner’s presence.”
Tanner’s husband Bruce is currently with her in the intensive care unit.