Medical Assisting student would not quit program…even for cancer
After Felisha Stewart’s tests results in April 2014 indicated thyroid cancer, her oncology physicians were blunt about statistics reflecting that most women under 45 years old did not get past stage 2. At age 31, Felisha had stage 3 Papillary Carcinoma.
For the next several months, Felisha had many more tests, biopsies, MRIs, PET scans, CT scans and surgeries to remove her thyroid and lymph nodes that had metastasized. But Felisha was not about to be deterred from realizing her dream of getting the education she needed to become a professional in the medical field. Enrolled in the Medical Assisting certificate program on the Temecula campus, she was determined to not only complete her program, but to rank at the top of her class.
“My doctors were constantly on me to begin treatments and surgery, but I wanted to schedule my surgeries around my MA program,” says Felisha. “I took a gamble with my health to do this program. Some people are just stubborn, and I’m one of those people.”
Felisha took time off during lectures, but refused to schedule any procedures that would cause her to miss program clinicals.
“Regardless of obstacles, I find a way to go over, under or around to overcome them,” she says. “Nothing was going to come between me and this program and doing the best I can.”
It was a very hard time for Felisha and her two children, Zariyah (5) and Terrell (3). Felisha had no local family to help her with child care, extended medical recoveries or occasional emergencies. Her brother, Andre, who lives in Texas, and her mother, Mary, came for as long as they could during Felisha’s surgeries.
Felisha found a family to stand with her when she needed a little emotional support or encouragement to keep going forward. Her SJVC family of instructors and students stepped up in ways she never expected.
“From the first day I walked into the building I felt it was very family-oriented,” she says. “I’ve been through different colleges and never had that kind of setting. Usually staff and faculty are a giant step away, and it’s ‘this is my job; I’m here to make a paycheck and go home.’ I didn’t find that here at SJVC.”
Felisha was in her element – and totally in love with her MA program. She already had Bachelor and Associate degrees in Health Care Management and had spent 10 years in the Army working in that capacity. But, she always knew she was meant to be involved in direct patient contact.
“I love the hands-on of this program,” she enthuses. “I was just not happy being the one to sit behind the desk. It took a lot of courage for me to take corrective steps to do something for me that I needed to truly be happy.”
Cancer was not going to come between Felisha and her passion for the career she always wanted.
“Felisha took only a few days off for surgery and radiation,” says Robyn Whiles, Campus Director. “She returned to school with bandages and a spirit that would not allow her to fail. Her optimism, commitment and dedication are contagious and make us realize we can accomplish anything we set our mind to.”
This is not the first difficult situation Felisha has been in and had to push through.
“Handling situations under stress and knowing how to diffuse situations is something you have to learn over time,” says Felisha. “I’ve been there; I’ve been to wars, so I know how to handle stressful situations.”
Felisha made the Dean’s List consistently and has a 3.85 GPA to help prove her point. She has plans to one day get back into a classroom and study to get her Master’s Degree and become a Physician Assistant.
Felisha has a whole cheering team behind her. Recently, that team grew by one when she and a fellow military veteran she first met in Korea over a dozen years ago reconnected.
“David pushes me and loves the fact that I am doing what I always wanted to do,” says Felisha of her fiancée who lives in Texas.
Felisha’s eyes are straight ahead, but that does not mean she is afraid to look back. “The cancer will not defeat me or be an excuse for me to slow down,” she says. “I want people to take my experience and maybe take something from it. To know you don’t let whatever it is come between you and where you want to go in life.”
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