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Forest Park Campus

Linda Foster Earns Degree while Battling Cancer

Linda Foster

Linda Foster is a fighter. Her story is one of courage and perseverance in the face of personal tragedy and hardship. The 62-year-old-St. Louis Community College graduate has twice survived cancer, and earned a certificate and a degree during her struggles.

Foster underwent treatment for breast cancer in 1974 and since then, had been cancer-free until early 2011, when she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Despite the year-long bout with the disease, Foster continued to pursue studies at STLCC-Forest Park. She earned a certificate in Early Care and Education in May 2012. Even though she suffered debilitating burns that made it difficult for her to stand, she walked across the stage to receive it.

“I was in a wheelchair, but I got up anyway,” she said.

Foster continued and earned an associate degree, which she received in May.

After being laid off following the closure in 2008 of the daycare center where she had been employed for 14 years, Foster enrolled at STLCC in January 2009.

“I had to keep going,” Foster said. “Because that’s what you do.”

When her doctor told her that “something looked funny” on her MRI scan during a checkup, Foster says she was not surprised to find out that it was cancer-related. Foster, who was one of 11 children, has a family history of cancer. Two of her sisters have died and one brother, who survived, had his rectum removed. She says that the most difficult part of her ordeal was telling her 36-year-old son about the diagnosis.

“He had big crocodile tears,” she said. “It was the hardest thing I had to do in my life.”

After she started chemotherapy, the treatments made it impossible for Foster to work. She depended on the help and resourcefulness of family and friends to get through rough patches. Foster says that even though times were hard, the one thing she refused to do was give up on was her education. During the 2011 academic year, she only missed five days of school.

Foster credited her faith and the support of the educational community at Forest Park as the motivation behind attending classes. Classmates Nita O’Neal, Tanya Brown and others drove her home every night or helped get supplies from the store. Members of the cafeteria staff took an interest in her well-being, and her instructors did what they could to best accommodate her.

"If they see that you are trying and that you are dedicated, they will do whatever they can to help you,” Foster said of her instructors.

Foster’s dedication as a student would be further tested when during a laser surgery, which required the use of radio radiation. She suffered second- and third-degree burns to her pelvic and groin area. A miscalculation of where the laser was supposed to hit caused the accident. She spent two months healing from the burns and had to re-learn how to walk. Confined to a wheelchair with graduation fast approaching, Foster was determined to get back on her feet.  At her rehabilitation sessions, she was limited to two hours a day, but she often found ways to get around that limitation.

“When I ran out of time, I would practice in my room,” she said.

Just hours before her first commencement, she got dressed while wearing a chemotherapy belt. At the ceremony, she was wheeled up to the ramp leading to the stage -- but she stood on her own.

Foster credits the driving force in her life has been her faith in God.

“When I stood up and walked across that stage, I felt like something or someone was carrying me all the way," she said. "You just have to have faith because without it, you can do nothing.”

Foster was able to stride across the stage this year, too, with a broad smile, to collect her diploma for finishing the associate degree in early care and education.

Foster says going through the cancer battle made her more appreciative of life. She plans to work for the Head Start Center for the Special School District of St. Louis County, where she will specialize in caring for children who are physically or mentally challenged.

Dr. Damon C. Collins, Foster’s gastroenterologist, has asked her to lead a seminar on colorectal cancer at his clinic. The program is still in development, but will occur once a month.

“It’s going to be great,” she said. “I want to do what I can to help anyone facing a personal struggle. I want my story to be a shining example of how you can survive and be successful.”

By Daphne Rivers, Forest Park Public Information and Marketing Intern