When the 36 second-semester seniors at Tennessee Tech University’s Whitson-Hester School of Nursing learned of their professor’s diagnosis with stage IV pancreatic cancer, they could not sit back passively.
The students are planning a vigil to honor their professor, Sharon Thompson, who joined the TTU faculty in 2008.
“In the nursing building, we’re all so close,” said Amanda Lankford, one of the students who is helping to plan the vigil. “When this happens to one of your teachers, it’s not ‘Oh, it’s my teacher.’ It’s, ‘Oh, this is my mom.’”
The students found out about the diagnosis last month and quickly began planning to participate in the Purple Light National Vigil for Hope in honor of Thompson. Thompson passed away Friday, Nov. 11.
“We still get cold chills; it’s absolutely rocked our world,” Lankford said. “I can’t talk about it without getting tears in my eyes.”
Purple Light vigils happen across the country in November, which is pancreatic cancer awareness month. The TTU vigil will begin at 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, in the nursing building. Students will hand out purple glow sticks and members of Thompson’s family will speak. Others who have been affected by the disease are welcome to attend.
“This is all student-lead,” said Sherry Gaines, director of the TTU Whitson-Hester School of Nursing. “Sharon was one of those faculty; she loved being with students. She was extremely knowledgeable, and the students always were very positive about her.”
In addition to the vigil, nursing faculty, students and staff for the past two months have been signing up to pray for Thompson. Each volunteer signs up for one hour every day for a week, even in the middle of the night. They set alarms to wake up and pray for her.
Thompson came to TTU after 10 years in the U.S. Air Force; she served as a nurse in Iraq from July to November 2003. She was scheduled to finish her doctorate this spring, but after her diagnosis, faculty from her program at the University of Texas at Tyler flew to Thompson’s home in Crossville to hood her and grant her the degree.
In her honor, Tennessee Tech is creating the Dr. Sharon S. Thompson Courage Award, using $10,000 from a $50,000 donation from the Jeanette Travis Foundation in Nashville. Donations are being accepted to increase the size of the endowment.
“This has been very difficult for the students, faculty and staff,” Gaines said. “We’ll continue to build the scholarship through alumni, students, faculty and staff who all love Sharon.”