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Nursing professor loses battle with cancer

Tech nursing students are mourning the loss of a nursing professor who passed away Nov. 11.

 Sharon Thompson, associate professor for the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing, died at her home after battling stage IV pancreatic cancer. Thompson announced her diagnosis to students in October.

“We have an extremely close class and she wanted us to know,” Vickie Brown, a second-semester senior nursing student, said. “Some of us were at the hospital, at our clinicals all over the Upper Cumberland, not just in Cookeville. It was pretty devastating, a rough couple of days.”

Brown said that Thompson asked faculty to share her diagnosis with the nursing students immediately after she found out.

The second-semester senior nursing students, 36 students total, decided almost immediately that they wanted to do something for Thompson.

“We had made a video of our thoughts for her,” Brown said. “She told us that it meant a lot to her and that you usually don’t get to hear how you have impacted people while you are alive. It made us feel like we really did something special for her, showed her how much we love her.”

Katy Bradfield, also a member of the second-semester senior class, found information about a candlelight vigil held in Chattanooga in honor of pancreatic cancer awareness. When she asked if the other students would attend it with her, Brown said she decided to try to have one at Tech.

“I asked my instructor if she thought the school would give us a blessing to hold a vigil here,” Brown said. “We just ran with it after they gave us approval, almost right away. “

PurpleLight National Vigils for Hope are held in November by thousands of people around the country, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

A vigil is scheduled for Nov. 20 at 6 p.m. in the courtyard of the nursing building. The event will be moved to the auditorium of the building in the event of adverse weather.

Purple glow sticks are being provided for all who wish to attend the event in honor of those who are battling or have battled pancreatic cancer. These were donated privately by individuals and instructors of the nursing school.

Members of Thompson’s family, including her husband, will be attending the vigil and will be speaking about pancreatic cancer.

Brown and nearly 70 nursing faculty and students attended the celebration of life memorial service for Thompson held Nov. 16 at the Lantana Road Baptist Church in Crossville, Tenn. Brown said that Thompson’s family shared pictures of her, made those in attendance laugh and encouraged them to celebrate the legacy Thompson left behind.


“She was a person who cared and wanted us to do well,” Amanda Hargis, a non-traditional second-semester senior nursing student, said. “She always went out of her way to help us and to make sure we came to class.”

Thompson graduated with her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2000, at the age of 37. She joined Tech’s faculty in 2008. Hargis said that Thompson encouraged her to never give up, especially as an older student.

“I think the biggest thing she taught me was to always be a patient advocate,” Hargis said. “Doctors and nurses don’t always follow that, and Mrs. Thompson was a big advocate of patients’ rights. She believed in doing what was best for them.”

According to the American Cancer Society, patients with stage IV pancreatic have a 1 percent five-year relative survival rate. This means that 94 percent of patients diagnosed will die within five years of a diagnosis, with 74 percent dying within one year.

“It is the only cancer whose mortality hasn’t changed since the Federal Cancer Act of 1971,” Brown said. “Only 2 percent of federal monies go towards pancreatic cancer research. This won’t change if we don’t start advocating around the country.”

Brown said she encourages everyone to visit the advocacy section of in order to help join the fight against pancreatic cancer by writing a letter to local representatives.

Tech has created the Dr. Sharon S. Thompson Courage Award in her honor. This award was established as a scholarship for non-traditional nursing students. Donations can be made in lieu of flowers to Tennessee Tech University, P.O. Box 1915. Checks can be made to the University, with the note “Dr. Sharon S. Thompson Courage Award” in the memo section.