Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mother battles chemotherapy to graduate from PHCC

SPRING HILL — Before Tracey Leschinsky became a college graduate last week — before her hair fell out in clumps while she alternated chemotherapy and textbooks, before she realized she was meant to be a nurse — she was a mother.

And like many mothers being honored on Mother's Day today, the 43-year-old Leschinsky will tell you that having children was the best thing that ever happened to her. Raising three daughters was her life's most important work.

But as they grew older, they needed her less, and she began searching for a career. She dabbled in sales and customer service. Her mother, Joann Sweet, 65, manages a doctor's office.

"Maybe you should go back to school and study something in health care," her mother told her.

Leschinsky, who has been a single mom for years, began taking classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College. She did well in medical billing and coding — a field she heard was growing — but found it boring. She wanted to work with people.

"I'd rather be hands-on and taking care of patients," Leschinsky said. "I've always loved to care for people."

Leschinsky's three girls — Amanda, 23, Ashley, 18, and Amber, 16 — encouraged her to follow her desire to help others. She took the prerequisite classes for PHCC's nursing program.

"Before she officially became a nurse, I saw her being a nurse," said Ashley. "She's always making sure other people are okay."

Leschinsky got a part-time job as a certified nursing assistant at Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill and worked Thursday and Friday shifts so she could study on the weekends.

But in the fall of 2009, two semesters shy of graduation, Leschinsky was forced to assume another, completely unwelcome role: patient.

She had felt a strange lump under her arm. Maybe it's just a cyst, she told herself.

"Maybe it's just a cyst," her mother agreed.

But the day after her first visit with a doctor, surgery confirmed what Leschinsky had feared most: Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Telling her daughters was the hardest part.

"I sat there in shock," said Ashley. "I didn't know what to do or think. I remember getting up and walking down the hall and into the stairwell and I just cried."

Juggling a part-time job, chemotherapy and the final year of nursing classes would be too much. She took a leave from work.

"I'm going to finish school," Leschinsky said. Her mother offered to help make ends meet.

The six months of chemotherapy were difficult. She felt sick all of the time. Sometimes she wanted to quit chemotherapy. Other times she felt overwhelmed as she worked to keep up with her nursing classes.

"If it wasn't for my mom and my kids, I would never have made it this far," Leschinsky said. "I wouldn't have gotten out of bed. I would have just crawled into a hole."

Ashley recalled some of the most difficult days.

"I'd say, 'Mom you can do this,' " she said. " 'You've come this far. You can't give up. You have to finish. You'll be a nurse.' "

As the weeks turned into months and she neared the six-month mark, Leschinsky was diagnosed with several blood clots — a side effect of chemotherapy — one in her leg, one in her heart and one in her lungs. She spent nine days in the hospital. She worried about the lectures she was missing.

Leschinsky's PHCC instructors and classmates were understanding and helpful, sharing notes and checking in by e-mail to ensure that she understood the material.

While it was unsettling to see their mother so sick, her strength and humor encouraged her daughters.

"I love the fact that my mom never gave up," said Amanda. "Once you give up, that's usually when you get sicker. She kept fighting. She's a very strong person."

"She would joke about her hair falling out," Ashley said. "She would say, 'Oh, my hair's so pretty.' She could joke about it and not care. It made me so happy. My mom being that strong has made me a stronger person."

Once Leschinsky's coursework was competed, it felt like a dream.

"I never thought this is the path my life would take," she said. "You just never know what life is going to bring you and what's going to come out of it."

On Wednesday morning, Tracey Leschinsky, mother of three, walked across the stage at Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey and received her diploma.

Her cancer is in remission.

She can't wait to get back to work.

Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at

Mother battles chemotherapy to graduate from PHCC 05/08/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 8, 2010 2:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Blake Snell shines as Rays beat Mariners to end skid (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell delivered the best outing of his young career and the Rays offense continued its home run-hitting ways for a 3-0 victory Sunday against the Mariners in front of 13,354 at Tropicana Field.

    Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) with starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) after the top of the seventh inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.
  2. No touchdown, but fun lesson for Bucs' Adam Humphries


    It didn't end up being a touchdown, but one of the Bucs' biggest hustle plays in Thursday's win over Jacksonville saw receiver Adam Humphries scoop up a loose ball just before halftime, after what looked like an incompletion but was correctly ruled a Jameis Winston fumble.

    Bucs WR Adam Humphries runs to the end zone with QB Jameis Winston trailing -- his alert play wasn't a touchdown because teammates cannot advance a fumble in the final two minutes of a half.
  3. Bucs' Demar Dotson should be back from injury next week


    The Bucs got good news on starting right tackle Demar Dotson, whose MRI showed only a mild right groin sprain and should be back at practice next week.

    Bucs tackle Demar Dotson, shown last year when he signed a three-year contract extension, should only miss a week of practice with his groin injury and can return healthy for the Bucs' season opener at Miami in three weeks. [Octavio Jones | Times]
  4. Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dead at 91


    LOS ANGELES — Jerry Lewis, the manic, rubber-faced showman who jumped and hollered to fame in a lucrative partnership with Dean Martin, settled down to become a self-conscious screen auteur and found an even greater following as the tireless, teary host of the annual muscular dystrophy telethons, has died. He was …

    In this Sept. 2, 1990, file photo, entertainer Jerry Lewis makes his opening remarks at the 25th Anniversary of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon fundraiser in Los Angeles. Lewis, the comedian whose fundraising telethons became as famous as his hit movies, has died according to his publicist. [Associated Press]
  5. Mastermind of lottery rigging scam that netted millions faces 25 years


    DES MOINES, Iowa — For a decade, computer programmer Eddie Tipton reliably showed up for work at the central Iowa office of the Multi-State Lottery Association and earned the confidence of his co-workers, a team of technicians entrusted to build computers used to randomly pick numbers for some of the most popular …

    FILE - In this June 29, 2017, file photo, Eddie Tipton, the former Multi-State Lottery Association information security director who admitted to masterminding a scheme to rig lottery games that paid him and others $2 million from seven fixed jackpots in five states, is seen in court in Des Moines, Iowa. Tipton is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, Aug. 22. (Rodney White/The Des Moines Register via AP, File) IADES501