TODAY   |  January 18, 2014

Teacher with brain cancer visits with former students

“You can't control the cards you were dealt, just the way you play them,” said teacher David Menasche, who crossed the country visiting his former students after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren reports.

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>>> you the story of a teacher who is in the fight of his life as he battles brain cancer . despite his challenge, though, he hasn't stopped teaching, and it turns out, he hasn't stopped learning, either. kristen dahlgren has his story. good morning.

>> good morning, erica. think about it, what would you do if you had just a short time left? it's a question none of us want to face, but for a popular teacher, david minace, the answer came from his students, and now he may be teaching all of us his most important lesson yet. david was just 34 when he was diagnosed with brain cancer .

>> initially, i was only given two months to live.

>> reporter: the tumor took most of his sight, and a seizure left him partially paralyzed. the english teacher could no longer work in the classroom. but instead of giving up on life, minache set out to see his former students. he announced his quest on facebook, and within 48 hours had places to stay in 50 cities.

>> it just melted me. this idea that these kids were going to open up their homes to me.

>> reporter: over 101 days, the teacher, who wasn't supposed to be alive, crossed the country, from florida to california.

>> the pacific.

>> so nice to see you!

>> reporter: along the way, he learned from those he once taught.

>> you encouraged me to be a writer.

>> reporter: when menasche was a teacher, one of his favorite lessons was the priority list. he had students rank a list of words to learn about who they were and what was important. it's now the title of his book.

>> i came back from the trip with the knowledge that i had made a difference, and it was a positive one.

>> reporter: jennifer brewer was one of his students. she now takes care of him while she's finishing college.

>> he didn't let cancer decide the outcome of his life. he decided to take it with a grain of salt and continuing to do what he loved and see the people that he loved, and that meant most to him.

>> reporter: the internet is full of tribute videos from students he touched.

>> i want to personally say thank you, mr. menasche.

>> you have changed my life and showed me how much strength a human being can have.

>> reporter: but he says, in reality, they rescued him and taught him some of life's greatest lessons.

>> you can't control the cards you are dealt, just the way you play them. i'm still playing.

>> and menasche says his tumor is stable. it's not getting smaller, but it's not growing, either. he's back in chemotherapy. he vows to keep fighting. he says the most important thing he can tell people is live every day like it's your last. you just never know.

>> i love what he has to say and his analogy of you can't control the cards you're dealt, but you can control how you play them.

>> and that's what he's doing.

>> what an impressive guy. great story. kristen, thanks. we'll be