Students rally for professor diagnosed with cancer

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Doctors recently diagnosed an assistant psychology professor at Dixie State University with breast cancer.

Dannelle Larsen-Rife teaches interpersonal neuroscience as a psychology professor and helps to spearhead research conducted in the psychology department’s NiRd Lab. She is seeking a specialized treatment not offered in Utah. The treatment includes surgery and a year-long medical regimen to combat the cancer.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Larsen-Rife said. “I teach interpersonal neuroscience and the relationship between the mind and body. I had a sense that something wasn’t okay with me.”

The professor said she became aware of the possibility of the diagnosis in December and was officially diagnosed January 27.

“We’re still trying to determine if it is stage three or stage four,” Larsen-Rife said. “I have a gene mutation, which is a HER2-Positive, which is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer.”

Larsen-Rife said her initial reaction was mainly acceptance.

“This is just another thing to get through,” Larsen-Rife said.

Since the diagnosis, students, faculty and friends have stopped by her office to deliver dinner, offer natural remedies and provide a helping hand with her children, Larsen-Rife said. Erica Peterson, a senior psychology major from Cedar City, first attended class instructed by the professor during her sophomore year and started a crowdfunding page. Peterson said she hopes the page will help the mother of three cover the escalating medical expenses after learning about the diagnosis.

“What makes her so much different from the other professors is that she really cares about her students and people in general,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the professor takes her students “under her wings,” like they are family.

“Her first concern when she found out was her students and children,” Peterson said. “She didn’t want her students’ education to suffer because she would have to miss class but we tried to explain to her that we thought they would understand.”

Tara Dooley, a sophomore psychology major from West Jordan, said she takes professor Larsen-Rife’s human development class and was in class when her professor shared the news.

“I was in shock,” Dooley said.”I would have never guessed that was the news she had to tell us.”

Dooley, like many other students, looks to Larsen-Rife as one of the most influential professors on campus, she said.

“She gets really into what she teaches and makes it very interesting and loves what she does,” Dooley said. “When she told us that she wasn’t sure how she would keep teaching, I was surprised. She is more worried about her classes than she is about her cancer.”

The estimated cost of the treatment is about $100,000 and in the short amount of time the crowdfunding page has been up, students, friends and family have rallied over $1,900 in support of Larsen-Rife’s battle. Insurance will not allow patients to travel out of the state for care and there is a chance insurance will turn her down, Larsen-Rife said.

In Utah the most widely used treatment is the removal of the nipple. To avoid the main treatment method for breast cancer patients in Utah and its repercussions, Larsen-Rife said she plans on going out of state to work as a visiting professor at Stanford University and get treatment.

“So many people are reaching out,” Larsen-Rife said. “So when Erica [created the crowdfunding page], it was incredibly moving to me and just the generosity of people who were willing to help me and my family it’s incredible and I think it will help me heal.”

The psychology professor has a core message to all of her students that has become the motto for the crowdfunding page.

“I study relationships,” Larsen-Rife said. “And all of my students know, I have 24 years of education and I can sum it all up in one phrase: stress kills and relationship heals.”