My sister is simply amazing!

Those who know me well, know that I’m the oldest of 4 kids.  They have also heard me talk about my sister, Gina.  Well, I’m ecstatic because she is finally reaching a goal that many would see as impossible.  At age 42, she is graduating from nursing school on Friday!

Okay, so this may seem like no big deal.  Getting a nursing degree at 42 is not unprecedented, and it’s not like my sister hasn’t attended college before.  She has a BS in Anthropology and a MS in Rehab Counseling.  People go to school late in life all the time.  In fact, my youngest sister, Vanessa, and my brother, Jason, are each currently pursuing their respective degrees, as well.  Vanessa previously earned a vocational certificate, leading to a successful career in the medical technology field.  Now, in her 30’s, she’s working toward a 4-year degree in IT.  Jason served in the Army and Army Reserves and then built a thriving house-painting business with a partner.  He wanted to make more of a difference in people’s lives, so he quit the business, enrolled in college, graduated with honors and is currently attending one of the top 5 dentistry schools in the US.  He just turned 39.  All my siblings are awesome!

So what makes my sister’s nursing school graduation so special?  Lest you think I’m merely being a proud big sis, let me tell you more about her situation.

Gina has a pituitary brain tumor which is not cancerous but does like to grow, so the only way they can keep it from taking over her brain is to give her low-dose chemo pills a couple of times per week.  They also tried low-dose radiation, which not only didn’t work, it ended up decreasing her immune system’s ability to fight off germs.  Consequently, she caught a nasty nerve-attacking virus that they didn’t figure out how to treat until she had lost most of the feeling in her legs and some feeling in her hands.  In addition to causing her throat to close, she began to have tremors.  Thankfully, the doctors found a way to reverse some of the effects (like keeping her throat from closing so she can swallow and breath!).

Today, she is on a regimen that reminds me of dialysis except it’s not.  She has to be taken to an ambulatory care center for a whole week out of every four to receive donated antibodies to boost her immune system.  While the treatment initially causes fluctuations in her blood pressure and body temp (fevers are usually the norm for her), she benefits by getting about two and half good weeks every month. Her tremors subside some, and there are days when she can get around with a walker or cane.  However, most of the time she uses a wheel chair.  She refuses to take heavy narcotics to deal with the headaches from the tumor, and, well, chemo-induced nausea and vomiting is just something she copes with.  After all, she’s done that for about 4 years now.

There have many times during these past several years when she could have checked out… not only out of school but out of life.  We’ve had many deep talks about the topic of mortality and death.  Her indomitable spirit and drive to make a difference in the world has kept her head and heart focused on the big picture in spite of all the countless setbacks (which are even greater in number than I’ve recounted here).

Gina is finishing what they call “clinicals” now.  Nursing students are required to work under strict supervision in a patient care setting like a hospital or clinic.  Not only is she making it work in spite of her physical limitations, she is impressing the medical staff and instructors so that they are now taking a serious look at how they can help other disabled individuals succeed in the nursing profession.

My sister is simply amazing.  All of this in spite of having dyslexia too!  She called me yesterday to let me know that she scored 159 points over the national average on the test to graduate.  As you might imagine, I am filled with jubilation.  I am so very grateful and honored to have this incredible woman in my life serving as a constant inspiration to me every day.  I hope you, too, will feel inspired by her success.


UPDATE December 12, 2009

A few days ago, I posted a story about my sister’s anticipated graduation date on Friday.  Well, she beat all the odds and made it!

She was featured in a 2-minute segment on the local news last night.  You go, girl!

Gina Graduates!

Gina at Graduation


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1 Response

  1. Rose Ferguson says:

    Oh, Angela…
    I remember when I tutored
    Gina in grade school. She has been able
    to compensate for her ADHD & Dyslexia
    with her magnificent intelligence. I am
    so proud of her and am excited that I
    spoke with her recently. I cried when
    I listened to her talk about her dog ! It
    was more than I could bear, having lost
    Cayenne. Gina is amazing.

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