Popular ETSU professor hopes to use his brain cancer diagnosis to help others

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL)- Walking in to a lecture hall, East Tennessee State University psychology professor Dr. Chris Dula says he’s home.

“I’m blessed to do what I love for a living, unbelievable,” Dula said.

We got to watch as Dula walked in to his lecture hall at ETSU for the first time since his brain cancer diagnosis.

He wanted to run through a lecture to see what it would be like after his brain surgery.  He had to practice dialing back his famous high energy lectures.

On what started as a normal day in May, Dula and his 5-year-old niece Lala were hanging out in downtown Johnson City. He suddenly lost vision in one eye. He said Lala lead him to his wife’s downtown office. He said both his wife and Lala saved his life that day by helping him to get to the hospital. There, he got two emergency brain surgeries and was diagnosed with brain cancer.

“That was two hospitalizations and two brain surgeries so that’s a lot to process,” Dula said. “It’s about as hopeful as it can be realistically …I’m going to give it my all.”

About a month after his surgeries, we set up an interview with him at Brown Hall Auditorium where he has taught for years.  He said he would also invite a few students and colleagues. More than a dozen people showed up with just hours notice to watch as he ran through the lecture he gives to ETSU freshman at orientation. And unless you’ve had him as a professor, you wouldn’t know this was the “toned down” Dula. His energy, passion, and heart still shined through.

“I can’t sing Dula’s praises high enough, he’s always been there for anybody who needs it,” Cheyna Galloway said. Galloway had Dula as a psychology professor and as an advisor for a campus organization. “And all of the years that I’ve spent working with him, he’s so selfless.”

“He influenced me not only to learn more about psychology and the human mind but also to learn about life and to live life. Dr. Dula, I’ve always looked up to him because he’s a person that lives life to the fullest,” former student Devin Ricker said.

“The first thing about him that I loved was his enthusiasm,” former student Richard Barran said.

“He’s very passionate about what he does and that is easily seen and his work on campus, and his lecture halls, and in his one on one work,” Galloway said.

Since he started at ETSU in 2004, he’s won multiple awards including the ETSU School of Graduate Studies Outstanding Mentor Award, National Society of Leadership and Success (ETSU Chapter) Excellence in Teaching Award, and he made the Top 25 List of University Professors for RateMyProfessor.com (list derived from 14+ million spontaneous/anonymous student ratings of 1.7+ million instructors at 7,500+ institutions in the U.S./U.K./Canada).

He is literally a rock star at ETSU, taking the stage with his band Kryss Dula and Friends for ETSU and community events, never taking any money, often playing for charities.

His larger than life personality has gained him a following at ETSU. Now he says he hopes to use this cancer diagnosis as a catalyst to help others. Before this most recent chapter of his life unfolded, he wrote a book about how he went from teenage alcoholic to PHD professor. The book is called “Experiments in Life: One Man’s Transformation from Privilege to Pathetic, Penitent to Professor” under the pen name of Steven Sage.

Dula said he hopes to get on the Ellen Show to share his story and his book. He said he will donate at least half the proceeds of book sales to charity. Dula announced his diagnosis, and his plan to try and get on Ellen in a Facebook live video in late June. Since then that video has been viewed and shared hundreds of times and you can find hundreds of posts and tweets with #GetDulaOnEllen.

“If we don’t get on Ellen that is okay. I have been the recipient of so much positive love and support as just part of this effort that that alone is so gratifying as to make me just grateful beyond my ability to express in words,” Dula said.

Through this, he’s been able to see just a piece of the incredible impact he’s had on thousands of ETSU students over the years.

“He’ll give you things that he can’t replace like his time and his energy, his expertise, his talents, these things that he’s not going to be able to get back from you and I’ll never be able to repay him for everything that he’s done for me,” Galloway said.

Through the shock and the pain, Dula said he sees purpose. “I feel really grateful to God for being here and I think there may even be a positive plan in all of this,” Dula said.

Copyright 2017 WJHL. All Rights Reserved.

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