LOCAL FOLKS: Cancer not enough to deter Taylor from college

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – College is tough, but one Tupelo grandmother proved she’s tougher.
Rita Taylor graduated from Itawamba Community College in May after slugging through its nursing program while also fighting colon cancer and working a full-time job.
She’ll take the state board exam sometime this summer and, if she passes she’ll become a registered nurse.
“There were so many people in my classes whose parents were paying their bills, doing their laundry, and their only job was school, and they still couldn’t do it,” said Taylor, 54, from her living room Thursday. “Come walk in my shoes. If there is something you really want to do, then do it. Don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way.”
Taylor had spent two decades working as a licensed practical nurse, but she’d always dreamed of getting an associate degree and becoming a certified RN.
Then, in 2008, she decided it was time to go for it. Taylor enrolled at ICC as a full-time nursing student. She did this while keeping her job as a Minimum Data Set nurse, performing clinical assessments of residents in Medicare- or Medicaid-certified nursing homes.
She kept a grueling schedule, yet still managed to spend time each week with her family – including a husband, daughter, son-in-law and four grandchildren.
So it was no surprise when, after about one year, Taylor began to feel fatigued. She came home from work one day and plopped down on the love seat, thinking she might never get back up.
“I was just so extremely tired that I couldn’t hardly go,” Taylor recalled. “I thought I was anemic and just tired from working and going to school full time.”
But a blood test ruled out anemia. Instead, the doctor wanted to check for colon cancer, because Taylor’s sister had had it several years earlier, and cancer runs in the family along several lines.
The results came back affirmative: Taylor had stage 2 colon cancer. She needed surgery to remove the diseased tissues and several rounds of chemotherapy.
It was October 2009. She still had one year of school before earning her degree. At that point, Taylor could have quit college. Her husband, Jack, said he actually encouraged her to slow down and put her dreams aside. But Taylor finished out the semester before allowing herself a few months’ break.
She re-enrolled in August 2010 while still undergoing chemo – doctors had spread out the treatments over the course of one year because the usual six-month track proved too intense for Taylor.
When she returned to school, Taylor said she found the course work and tests harder than she had remembered. She kept forgetting things and spacing out. It turns out the chemo was affecting her memory, but Taylor pushed through the haze and completed her work. She passed all her tests and all her classes.
In December, Taylor was declared cancer-free. Six months later – on May 14 – she graduated with her nursing degree. Now, she’s eyeing her bachelor’s degree.
“I had started it, and I was so determined I wanted to finish it,” she said. “I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t finish.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.