Discover Your Island

From Devastating Health Diagnosis to a Bachelor’s Degree, Sierra Thetford is Truly a TAMU-CC Outstanding Graduate

December 13, 2016

OutstandingGrad-SierraThetford-450x630.jpg

CORPUS, CHRISTI, Texas – Sometimes life throws you a curveball and you need to roll with the punches. This is the message Sierra Thetford, who will be graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology during the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi fall 2016 commencement, has learned over her two-year battle with cervical cancer. During this time, she refused to give up and has boldly defied her original prognosis of six months to live.

Now that she’s graduating, she plans to use her degree to help others.

“I want to go into neuropsychology and use what I’ve learned at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi to conduct research that will help other people deal with the psychological effects of cancer and chemotherapy,” said Thetford.

Thetford originally came to the Island University from her home town of Quinlan, Texas, a small town northeast of Dallas, to pursue a degree in nursing. However, her path in life changed in September 2014 when she was in a severe car accident on her way home from campus. Her car rolled three times and she was taken to the hospital in a state of unconsciousness. As doctors treated her for injuries from the crash, they found a problem.

“At first they thought I was bleeding internally,” said Thetford. “With further testing, they found that I had stage 4b cervical cancer, which is a late stage cancer.”

After her diagnosis, Thetford took a semester off to recover and gather her strength before returning to college in fall 2015. She tried to continue with her nursing degree, but was having trouble with the side-effects of chemotherapy.

“Whether I wanted to believe it or not, cancer had affected me,” said Thetford. “I couldn’t study for as long as I needed and I was having a hard time keeping up with my schoolwork.”

This was a result of what is called “chemo brain,” a common term used for the chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or dysfunction that many people who battle cancer experience. While this caused issues for her pursuit of a degree in nursing, it allowed her to find a new passion in psychology.

“Psychology helped me understand and manage what was happening to me as I underwent chemotherapy,” said Thetford. “I’ve always been a person who wants to know why something is happening and it was incredibly helpful to study about chemo brain.”

Thetford, who is among 870 students graduating this fall, looks back at all the people who helped her succeed. Her mother has attended all 33 chemo treatments Thetford endured over the past two years. Thetford also has friends and family members who live in Corpus Christi who have taken her under their wing.

“My family has been my rock,” said Thetford. “If it wasn’t for all those who supported me, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree.”

Thetford is also thankful for all the understanding and supportive professors she’s had during her time at the Island University.

“Prior to my diagnosis, my professors were great mentors who worked to help me achieve my goals,” said Thetford. “After my diagnosis, my professors have been willing to work with me and have been understanding of my crazy chemotherapy schedule. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for the University.”

Thetford’s advice to her fellow Islanders is to reach out for help from your instructors if you’re having trouble.

“The professors are here to help you achieve your goals and find what you’re passionate about,” she said. “You should never be afraid to ask them for help.”

Thetford says she is incredibly honored to be named an Outstanding Graduate and is looking forward to her graduation day. She feels that she has not only made herself, her family and her friends proud, but also her fellow cancer survivors.

“I have worked really hard for this moment,” said Thetford. “I wanted to show that you can live with cancer. It’s like the saying goes, ‘Nobody said it would be easy, they just said it would be worth it.’”