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Terminally Ill Teacher Looks For Legacy On Cross-Country Quest

CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami) -- His days as a beloved English teacher at Coral Reef High School may be behind him, but David Menasche can still command a room.

When he stood before a the crowd at Book&Books in Coral Gables Tuesday, former students hung on his every word.

He shared a part of himself many already know.

Menasche has terminal brain cancer.

Back in 2006, he was given two months to live.

Now, more than seven years later, he's almost blind and walking with a cane, but still considers himself a "happy cat".

But he was never happier than when he was teaching, a job he had to give up in 2012 after a stroke.

"I figured I'd try writing, but I figured all my best stories were from the classroom for the last 15 years and that if I wanted the rest of the story I had to go out and get it."

Menasche decided to stop treatment and hit the road by bus and train, visiting past students along the way in what he called his "Vision Quest".

His journey to the Pacific Ocean was documented through photos and other travel tidbits posted on Facebook.

He also wrote a book about it.

"I knew I wanted to write about my experience, take pictures, audio recordings, I documented every second of it," Menasche told CBS 4's Lauren Pastrana.

"The Priority List: A Teacher's Final Quest to Discover Life's Greatest Lessons" is named for one of Menasche's most popular lessons.

He used to ask his students to rank 26 abstract words in order of importance to them.

The words included "privacy," "security," "love," "power," and "wealth."

Menasche said he would have students do the list twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of the year.

He said the lists usually change, and his is no different.

"Prior to getting diagnosed with cancer, my own list would have had honor at number one, but since then, since becoming disabled, my number one would be strength," Menasche said.

He's reluctant to say what he hopes his legacy will be, but his former students didn't hesitate.

"He made me believe I could go to college, that I could be a writer, have a voice," Tiffany Milakovich said.

"He took it to the level of I can be your teacher, I can be your adviser and I can be your friend," Ayixa Vecino explained.

All told, Menasche's vision quest lasted 101 days.

He visited 31 cities, saw 75 former students and took more than 1800 photos.

Those memories he will treasure for the rest of his life, however long that may be.

"I firmly believed before I set out that I would die on the road," he writes in the book. "But I didn't. I lived on the road. It didn't kill me; it saved me."

In the interest of full disclosure, "The Priority List" is published by Simon and Schuster, a division of the CBS Corporation.

While at heart, Menasche will always be a teacher, he says he's focusing his passion these days as an ambassador for an organization called "Voices Against Brain Cancer".


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