By: Kendra Housel
Joe Winger learned several life-changing lessons during his college years at Indiana Wesleyan University that cannot be discovered in textbooks or class lectures.
Winger, who graduated in 2010 with a B.S. degree in psychology, knew as a high school student in Colorado that he wanted to attend a Christ-centered university. After a Google search and a campus visit, he knew IWU was where he belonged.
The years he spent at IWU confirmed his choice, but in a way that he neither expected nor desired. The summer before Winger returned to campus for his senior year, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that primarily affects the lymph nodes.
Winger remained in Colorado to begin chemotherapy and radiation treatments during the first semester of his senior year, but he was able to complete his degree thanks to independent study.
“Dr. Tim Steenbergh and other faculty members become advocates for me,” he said. “The opportunity to work on my studies helped me to stay focused and to have a positive attitude during my treatments.” Steenbergh, a Professor of Psychology, has taught at IWU since 2003.
Winger returned to campus for his final semester in the spring of 2010, but he struggled with taking a full load of classes and missed the Colorado community that had surrounded him.
Winger would quickly learn how important community and meaning were in successfully battling cancer.
“The IWU community made my transition back to campus as smooth as possible,” he said. “So many people at IWU did everything possible to support me in person, just as they had done when I was in Colorado.”
Through his diagnosis and treatment, Winger said God taught him that life has meaning regardless of your circumstances. He learned the importance of staying connected to people and to Christ at all times.
“My eyes were opened to the suffering of cancer patients,” Winger said.
During his treatments, Winger read Man’s Search for Meaning, a book by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. “The book focuses on the importance of maintaining meaning in the midst of suffering,” Winger said.
Fast forward to 2017 when Winger finished his Ph.D. He recently completed his first year as a postdoctoral associate at Duke University Medical Center.
Through a fellowship from the American Cancer Society, Winger’s work focuses on Meaning-Centered Psychotherapy (MCP) with an emphasis on helping patients with advanced cancer
The study focuses on pain coping skills, relaxation techniques and identifying ways to stay engaged in a meaningful life. He is testing MCP with 50 cancer patients at Duke.
“God’s faithfulness put me in the field where I belong,” he said.
What advice does Winger have for today’s IWU students?
“Value being in a Christian community,” he said. “When I was at IWU, it never fully sunk in for me just how unique a time it was in terms of community. Especially for students who will go into secular environments, they will never get the same sense of community that seeks to glorify Christ in their work that they have now on campus.”
Written by Kendra Housel, writer for the IWU Alumni Center. Kendra is a junior Education and Honors Humanities double major at Indiana Wesleyan University in the John Wesley Honors College. She is also a member of the University Chorale. Kendra is passionate about serving Christ through writing, singing and caring for others.