Janie Torres-Harvey

"I can't let cancer stop me:" student graduates despite diagnosis

Students opt to take College of the Mainland courses online for many reasons—family responsibilities, traveling, jobs.

Janie Torres-Harvey viewed them as an invaluable resource after she learned she had cancer.

“If it weren’t for the Internet courses, I would not have been able to continue my education,” said the La Marque mother of two.

After beginning the business administration associate degree program at COM, Torres-Harvey learned in March 2013 that she had Stage 3 cervical cancer, which had already spread to her lymph nodes.

She began chemotherapy treatments, which she completed in June, and doctors pronounced her clear of cancer. Ecstatic, she enrolled in fall 2013 in a full load of classes.

That’s when she got the second call—treatments had failed to eradicate her cancer. She needed a second, more aggressive round of chemotherapy.

It was a blow. For more than two decades Torres-Harvey had waited to return to school, and now her family wondered whether she would stop, or at least pause, her education.

“I said no,” she recalled. “I’m 41 years old. I’ve waited this long to go to school. I can’t stop. I can’t let cancer stop me.”

Enrolled in mostly online classes, she charged forward. She often schlepped her laptop to complete assignments while waiting for treatments at M.D. Anderson five days a week.

“It was hard to stay on schoolwork,” she admitted. “I did the best I could. I was suffering all the effects of chemotherapy through November, fatigue, hair loss.”

She persisted in online courses with the help of instructors such as Selina Rahman who knew her story and sometimes extended assignment deadlines on weeks that treatments left her exhausted.

“All I could do was encourage her to continue and give her time,” said Rahman, “but it was really her who had the courage to continue.”

Last month, Torres-Harvey heard the good news – she was now completely cancer-free. She is still recovering from treatments – the second round of chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy, a neural condition making her steps labored – but she refuses to let that slow her down either.

Her determination, she said, is fueled partly by struggling without an education for years to provide for her children. As they grew older, she urged them to pursue higher education, though she never thought her own would be possible. One day while completing college financial aid applications with her son, she had an epiphany.

“I preach ‘Go to school,’ and who says it’s too late for me?” she wondered. “I thought I might qualify for financial aid.”

She did qualify for financial aid and received a scholarship from COM Foundation to help with tuition. She enrolled in a degree plan that would allow her to move up in her current company, American National Insurance, where she works as a full-time credit claims examiner.

Now her degree is in sight.

“It’s nice to hear my kids say they’re inspired and so proud of me,” she said. “I'm not going to let cancer say I can’t go to school.”

For more information about COM online classes, visit http://online.com.edu.

Stay Connected with COM: