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Finding Normalcy Amid the Pain


January 3, 2012




For Averett's adult learners, pursuing an education is not a decision that is made lightly. There are so many other things to consider - family, work, activities - that a student in the traditional program often doesn't have to think about. Jeannie Frisco had something else to consider once she was diagnosed with cancer toward the end of her degree program - should she try and complete and her degree while undergoing treatment.

Among the things she had to consider: getting to class in Martinsville, carrying her books while using a walker and then a cane, what her classmates would think when she lost her hair and had to wear a mask to prevent infection?

"None of this mattered to my classmates," Frisco said. "The only thing that mattered was that I was going to be there to graduate with them."

Once she made the decision to continue pursuing her education, Frisco's classmates stepped up, providing her with transportation to class, carrying her books and helping her to her desk when she was too weak to walk by herself. A security guard at the New College Institute, where she took classes, blocked off space close to the building so she didn't have to walk so far to class.

"My teammates encouraged me to continue throughout the last year. They supported me and picked up the slack when I wasn't performing at my best. I will never forget when I gave my first presentation after treatments; I was wearing a mask and trying to stand with one hand on my cane. I received a note from a classmate that said 'I was dreading standing in front of class and giving a presentation. I decided if you could do it with a smile then I had nothing to dread.'

When she was first diagnosed and trying to decide what to do, Dana Mehalko, academic advisor for the Southern Region, talked with her at length about continuing her education and the benefits her classmates could provide.

Dana reminded Frisco that "even in tragedy, we all want to be normal and going to class, which would provide me with some normalcy. Dana would check in with me to make sure things were going well and see if I needed any additional assistance. Thanks to all my classmates the answer was always 'No, I'm alright. The class is taking care of me.'"

Toward the end of her treatment and during radiation, Frisco grew so weak that she couldn't travel. Mehalko provided her with direction on requesting an independent study class.

"With assistance from her and everyone at Averett, I was able to take one of my core classes online. Averett faculty and staff are more than just people that receive a paycheck. They care about their students and have become a family to me.

"Averett University holds a special place in my heart. So many people from guidance counselors to the registrar's office to the library staff have exceeded my expectations and touched my heart with their willingness to help me."

In spite of everything she has been through, Frisco would make the decision to continue her education again, and she would encourage others who are facing challenges to do the same.

"(Classes) provided me with something to look forward to, with a routine, and got me out of bed when I really didn't want to."

Frisco, who graduated in December 2011, is permanently disabled and has to continue treatments and check-ups throughout 2012. Even though she is able to work right now she plans to volunteer with numerous non-profits and try to touch lives the way her life has been touched. She hopes to one day be able to go back to work full-time.