This summer has been very hectic on our campus with interviewing and hiring to be ready for the fall semester. On June 26, we were devastated to learn that our Director of Nursing, Tonya Hankins had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. On this day, she was told that it was inoperable and she had six to twelve months to live so she would need to begin getting “things” in order. This diagnosis sent waves of sorrow and shock across both sides of the Pocahontas campus – the Nursing Department on one side and Law Enforcement on the other where Tonya’s husband, Chris, is an instructor.
The love and support that became evident makes me so very proud of our BRTC family. The nursing faculty and former Director of Nursing Ramonda Housh began to assist Tonya and Chris in making contact with MD Anderson Medical Center in Houston, TX. On June 30, Chris and Tonya flew to Houston due to the generosity of Scott and Carmen George from Corning. During her three week stay at MD Anderson, Tonya received some encouraging news; the diagnosis remained pancreatic cancer, but she was given hope and started on chemotherapy with surgery planned in a few months.
During Chris and Tonya’s stay in Houston, the nursing and law enforcement faculty members were busy at the Hankins’ home. Along with assistance from many in the community, a “Home Makeover” was accomplished to surprise Chris and Tonya upon their return. The faculty also began planning fund raising events to assist with the astronomical medical expenses that will occur in fighting this battle.
Events began at Kiss the Cook in Paragould on July 12. On July 20, local author Jana Caldwell held a book signing at Hastings in Jonesboro and gave a donation to support efforts. On July 27, over 250 people participated in a 5K Color Run that was spearheaded by the BRTC Nursing Faculty. Nursing Students sold “Team Tonya” shirts and car decals. The LETA faculty sponsored an evening at Upper Crust Pizza in Jonesboro on July 31, along with multiple raffles. Nursing students held an indoor yard sale on August 3. Also on the evening of August 3, Great Harvest Church had a Praise and Worship Service with donations given to the Hankins family. On August 9 Lawrence Health Systems gave away a wreath, with proceeds also helping Team Tonya. Proceeds from these events resulted in over $22,000 being deposited into bank accounts at Integrity First Bank and Liberty Bank to help offset medical expenses of the Hankins.
When our faculty returned on August 12, I had the pleasure of sharing a message from Chris and Tonya. In this message, I shared their deep appreciation for all that the BRTC family had done to assist them in this battle. Tonya encouraged all to think about the positive difference that BRTC faculty and staff make in the lives of the students that we serve. They are most appreciative of continued prayers for her progress in this war against cancer. Tonya will be away from us for an undetermined amount of time with her treatment, but is relieved that nursing students and faculty were blessed by the return of Ramonda Housh as Interim Nursing Director.
To summarize lessons we are learning, I want to share in Tonya’s words, “Lastly, enjoy this academic year. Yes, I said Enjoy it! Life is unpredictable and too short to complain about things that we cannot change. Trust me, whatever your situation, it could be worse. I don’t complain because my situation could be much worse. I am blessed with my God and family! And you are part of my family and I only want the best for you. Blessings for a great academic year for all of you! We will be back with you soon!!!”
Please continue to keep the Hankins family in your thoughts and prayers during these trying times! You can follow Tonya’s fight and progress on Facebook on the “Team Tonya” page.