Shocker student earns degree while fighting breast cancer
Oct. 25, 2013, is a date that will forever be remembered by Sonya Coffman. That was the day she was diagnoised with breast cancer – right in the middle of her senior year at Wichita State University.
She had two options: Push pause on her life goals and education, or push through and finish her bachelor’s degree in social work as a member of the graduating class of spring 2014.
“I saw no reason to stop, because although I was going through that, I still wanted to give -- no matter what -- as much of me as I could,” Coffman said.
After graduating high school, Coffman left behind a scholarship offer at WSU to enter the real world, where she held several high-profile corporate positions. It was with the passing of her sister and father that led Coffman to re-evaluate her life and decide to return to school.
“I guess I came to the realization that there’s some things I can learn outside of college and there’s some things that I can learn while I’m in college, and I want to take that opportunity now,” Coffman said. “So I began my journey at WSU, and once I started I was hooked.”
A different direction
Because Coffman enjoys working with and helping others, as well as being involved in organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and Kids with Cancer, she decided to pursue a degree in psychology. It wasn’t until four years later -- two classes from completing her degree -- that she was presented with the opportunity to take a different direction.
After discussions with her advisor, Joan Snodgrass, and social work instructor, Deah Miller, Coffman decided she belonged in social work. Right then and there, she decided to switch majors. She immediately began taking classes in pursuit of earning her bachelor’s degree in social work.
Then, just a semester-and-a-half away from her degree in social work, Coffman was forced to begin the journey of learning to live with cancer.
Shortly after her diagnosis she began chemotherapy while still attending class, completing assignments and taking tests. She went through surgery during the 2014 spring semester and came out cancer free.
“And that’s when I knew that my life was taking a new direction,” Coffman said. “I just ask for one more chance so that I can get everything right in my life and now, with being cancer free and being able to continue, I decided that I wanted to go to graduate school so that I could continue with my education.”
In the long run, Coffman would like to work in the research and development for children with autism, ADHD and ADD. When Coffman and her husband got married, they discovered they could not have children and decided to become foster parents. They adopted two young boys and a little girl.
“My 2-year-old ended up having autism, and I have worked with him since we had him. Working with kids with disabilities showed me for, whatever reason, that I have the patience and the understanding of what’s going on with them,” Coffman said.
Coffman will walk on May 16 at graduation, finish up one undergraduate class during the summer and head straight to graduate school at Wichita State to continue to pursue her dreams.
“I never felt that I needed to stop for any reason,” she said. “Ten weeks out of surgery, and I feel the strength coming back every day.”