My Library Story: Shauna Gerritsen

When Shauna Gerritsen was handed a breast cancer diagnosis, she took a look at her life and decided there were still some things she wanted to do.

Breast cancer was going to have to get out of her way.

“When I came in to meet with PPLD [Pikes Peak Library District] about a Career Online High School scholarship, I still had drain tubes and bandages from my surgery,” Gerritsen said. “When they asked me why I wanted the scholarship, I showed them my drain tubes and told them I was going to show my kids that, no matter what you’re going through in life, it’s about finishing the goals you set.”

Gerritsen is a driven individual with a laser focus on realizing her aspirations. After her diagnosis, she created a list of ambitions, and one of them was to receive her high school diploma.

The reason she couldn’t graduate the first time around? Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I was very much against having hospice come in for my mom, because I always felt like once hospice comes in, that’s the end,” Gerritsen said. “I switched from a traditional school to homeschooling and got so wrapped up in taking care of my mom. Before I knew it, my senior year was there, and I didn’t have enough credits to graduate.”

This time around was going to be different. Gerritsen was determined to make it so.

“I realized now I’m in my mom’s shoes in my journey, and I had to do this to show my daughter that it can be done.”
In February of 2018, Gerritsen underwent her first surgery. What should have taken just one procedure turned into five because of an infection. Regardless, she began her first prerequisites for COHS in April, just two months later, and was admitted to PPLD’s COHS program on May 8, 2018.

COHS is a program that allows participants to earn an accredited high school diploma, an alternative to taking the GED. PPLD provides the program, which costs about $2,000 per student, at no charge to participants like Gerritsen who qualify for scholarships from the PPLD Foundation. The stipulations to receive a scholarship include completing the program in eighteen months.

As Gerritsen underwent multiple surgeries at the beginning of her COHS journey, the coursework timeline became even more difficult: she found out her family was moving nearly 600 miles away.

“Through all of this, through all of my surgeries, school, everything, my husband came down on orders.”

Gerritsen’s husband was stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo., and got reassigned to Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla. The family had to sell their home and move just a month after Gerritsen’s final surgery.

“His date got pushed back, because I ended up having surgery in June, and the doctor wouldn’t release me to travel with drain tubes.”

So, among all of the family’s challenges, they relocated in July of 2018. Nevertheless, Gerritsen pushed on.

“My husband watched me cry through nights of not feeling good, but knowing I had classes to do,” Gerritsen said. “But I had to finish it, because I set goals. I gave myself exactly one year to graduate.”

And, of course, Gerritsen beat her goal.

She finished her COHS courses on May 1, 2019. She finished her eighteen months of coursework in less than a year. And, she’s in remission. Her body is clear of cancer.

Her husband was so proud of her accomplishment that he insisted the family attend Shauna’s graduation at Library 21c. Though both of them had to work the next day, the Gerritsens—Shauna, her husband, and their two children ages 7 and 4—drove through the night for PPLD’s Celebrate Literacy graduation ceremony on May 30, 2019.

“He told me that I couldn’t miss this, that I worked so hard for it, and that if we had to drive all day and night, we would be here for it,” Gerritsen said.

Gerritsen’s family sat proudly in the audience, snapping photos and loudly cheering, as she walked across the stage to receive her high school diploma. Just a few hours later, they’d head back out on the road to their new life in Oklahoma.
Now that she’s received her diploma, Gerritsen is determined to pursue her master’s degree and become a physician’s assistant. Pity the fool that dares to get in her way.

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