After losing mom to cancer, student carries on to commencement
Most parents get upset if it takes their student seven years to finish their bachelor’s degree.
Stacey DeLathouwer’s mom would be beaming with pride.
DeLathouwer joined 3,700 graduates participating in Illinois State University’s spring commencement, an amazing milestone given all that stood in her way. Her mother, Kathy Carmody, was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer while DeLathouwer was still in high school, and DeLathouwer—an only child to a single parent—became her chief advocate and caregiver. Kathy died weeks before the fall 2012 semester.
For the past seven years, DeLathouwer has chipped away at her degree, juggling part-time classes with helping her mom and, later, the demands of being a young homeowner.
“As she got sicker, I promised her I was going to finish college even though I realized she wasn’t going to be able to see me graduate,” said DeLathouwer, a Bloomington native. “I knew I had made a promise to keep going and that my mom wouldn’t want me to stop, so I just kept going.”
DeLathouwer didn’t just finish school—she excelled here. The senior food, nutrition and dietetics major was recently preselected for Eastern Illinois University’s dietetic internship program—a big deal in a very competitive field. She wants to become a registered dietitian and maybe teach someday.
Even DeLathouwer’s interest in nutrition traces back to her mom.
When Kathy, a 38-year veteran of State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, DeLathouwer sprang into action. She helped come up with nutritious meals to counteract the chemotherapy. While researching which kinds of meats would provide her mom with different types of iron to improve her blood count, she discovered her passion.
Kathy’s death in 2012 was the “most difficult situation I’ve ever encountered,” DeLathouwer said. Her father died from heart disease when she was 12. It was just her and her mom, and she was left without her go-to sounding board, her emotional backstop.
DeLathouwer graduated May 7. The next day was Mother’s Day.
“It’s a little surreal,” said DeLathouwer. “I’ve been working toward this goal, and I’ve been waiting for this day. I’m kind of amazed it’s actually happening.”
Her professors aren’t surprised.
“Stacey is the student who sits in the front row furiously scribbling notes. She is the most detail-oriented person I have ever met,” said Rachel Vollmer, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. “She is interested in all of the little minute details that students often forget about.”
DeLathouwer never sought special treatment due to her difficult family situation. In fact, most of her professors never even knew. She was shy, a bit soft-spoken, yet a stellar student.
“I was a student like anyone else. I wanted to be pushed and held to the same standards,” she said.
Instructional Assistant Professor Mary Combes ’96, M.S. ’00, found out only because DeLathouwer’s family history paper for her American Family course detailed her father’s death and mother’s cancer.
“Never once did she complain, never once was she late with an assignment, never once did she skip class,” said Combes. “Stacey is a most remarkable young woman who never let adversity get the better of her.”
DeLathouwer, also a student leader with the Food Nutrition and Dietetics Club, will soon move to Charleston to begin her dietetic internship. It’s a major achievement: Only about 50 percent of all students applying for a dietetic internship even get placed, Vollmer said, and fewer still get preselected.
“Her resiliency is inspiring,” said Vollmer.
For DeLathouwer, that resiliency gives her confidence, knowing she can handle pretty much anything that comes her way.
“Never give up on your dreams, no matter what’s going on,” she said. “You may have to adjust your plans or take a slightly different path, but don’t let anything stop you.”
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.