Make us your home page
Instagram

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 slmarshall.sptimes@gmail.com.

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

Loading...
  1. Tampa court hearing rescheduled for accused neo-Nazi jihadist killer

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Attorneys for Devon Arthurs, the alleged former neo-Nazi turned jihadist accused of shooting to death his two roommates, have asked to reschedule a court hearing that had been set for Wednesday morning.

  2. Parent of struggling DeVry University is changing its name to Adtalem

    Corporate

    Associated Press

    DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. — The company that owns one of the nation's largest for-profit college chains is changing its name.

    This 2009 photo shows the entrance to the DeVry University in Miramar, Fla. DeVry Education Group, which owns DeVry University, announced Wednesday that it will now be called Adtalem Global Education. 
[Associated Press file photo]

  3. NATO rolls out the red carpet, buffs its image for Trump

    World

    BRUSSELS — NATO is not only rolling out the red carpet for U.S. President Donald Trump in Brussels Thursday, the military alliance — which Trump once declared obsolete — has been busy repackaging its image and is ready to unveil a new headquarters worth more than 1 billion euros.

    U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania arrive at Fiumicino's Leonardo Da Vinci International airport, near Rome, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Trump is in Italy for a two day visit, including a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, ahead of his participation in a NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday. [Associated Press]
  4. Taiwan becomes first in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage

    World

    TAIPEI, Taiwan — In a first for Asia, Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on Wednesday, punctuating a yearslong campaign by advocates for gay rights in one of the continent's most liberal democracies.

    Same-sex marriage supporters wave rainbow Taiwan flags after the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan, Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on Wednesday, making the island the first place in Asia to recognize gay unions. [Associated Press]
  5. 'Top Gun' sequel? Tom Cruise says it starts filming soon

    Blogs

    Tom Cruise is once again feeling the need for speed.

    Tom Cruise starred in "Top Gun" in 1986, and said he'll begin work on a sequel within the next year.