PBSC grad doesn’t let cancer stop her from finishing degree

Palm Beach State College student Sharene Smith sat on a front row seat in a campus conference room watching her younger sister as she addressed a group of faculty and administrators.

The 65-year-old Boca Raton woman was supposed to be speaking that day. But two weeks before she was scheduled to present her capstone project – the final step toward fulfilling her lifelong dream of a bachelor’s degree – she had a setback. Last year’s radiation treatment for her second bout with cancer paralyzed one of her vocal cords, leaving her suddenly hoarse and barely able to speak.

Smith had come too far to give up. So, she turned to her sister, Tamara Savage, 63, of Delray Beach, who stepped up to be her voice.

“It was the hardest presentation I ever did,’’ said Savage of presenting the findings of Smith’s 11,000-word research paper examining Palm Beach State’s recruitment of people 55 and older. “I was literally shaking. It meant so much to me because she wanted [the degree] so badly. I was so proud of her and honored.”

Smith is among more than 2,700 students who will receive degrees and certificates from Palm Beach State College this term. She will don a cap and gown Dec. 20 at the 10 a.m. ceremony for the 1,325 graduates of the Associate in Science, Associate in Applied Science, Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management and Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees along with the certificate programs. A separate ceremony for graduates of the Associate in Arts degree program will be held at 2 p.m. at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

“I smile every time I think about it,’’ said Smith, who received her Associate in Arts degree at PBSC in 2012 and is now earning a Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management with a concentration in General Management.

Option 2 Sharene & Tamara 2560 x 1560-RESIZED
Sharene Smith, left, with her sister, Tamara Savage. Photography and videography by Idalia Centeno

She smiles because she has endured so much since fall 2010 when she enrolled at Palm Beach State to complete the education that she had put on hold decades ago to raise her four children and work. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. Then in 2013, she lost her husband to cancer as well as her mother to Alzheimer’s. She had enrolled in a capstone course last spring, but she withdrew because of the side effects from her last round of cancer treatments in December 2015 for another cancer of unspecified origin. Her professor, Dr. Roger Blair, contacted her and encouraged her to return.

Before enrolling at PBSC, she was working, taking care of her ailing husband and helping care for her mom, when her sister suggested that she do something for herself. Instead of a day at the spa or a trip, she chose something more long term – to go back to school.

“It was a distraction of something of quality,’’ said Smith. “Going to class just made sense to me. I was learning something.”

Smith also is meeting a challenge from her parents to her and her five siblings when growing up in Michigan – to get a college degree. Another 61-year-old sister is currently completing her Associate in Arts degree at Palm Beach State.

Smith is vice president of patient services for BodyLogicMD, a Boca-Raton company founded by her twin brothers, one a medical doctor and one who holds an MBA. Her family is planning a party for her in January and a scholarship in her name for older adults returning to school.

She has advice for others who think they can’t go back to school. “Snap it up and tell yourself you can!”

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5 comments on “PBSC grad doesn’t let cancer stop her from finishing degree”

  1. This is so wonderful!. Congratulations. I hope and pray that Mrs. Smith stays healthy to enjoy a long life. I believe in miracles!

  2. My warmest and most heartfelt congratulations! Your accomplishment, with the support of your sister, reminds me of the following quote from Eleanor Roosevelt;
    ” A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”

    Wishing you continued success with your goals and plans,
    Katherine Culhane

  3. Just beautiful… the family, the commitment, the courage. I will definitely be sharing… Congrats to Sharene!

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