Cancer diagnosis didn't slow TCL nursing student

rheaton@islandpacket.comDecember 14, 2012 

Leigh Stone gets a hug from daughter Kassie Stone on Thursday afternoon after graduating from the Technical College of the Lowcountry's nursing program.

SARAH WELLIVER, STAFF PHOTO

When Leigh Stone became short of breath from merely climbing a flight of stairs, he knew something was wrong.

But he had a microbiology final to take.

Stone was a nursing student at the Technical College of the Lowcountry and was in the middle of final exams last summer when he started to worry about his health. He soon discovered he had severe anemia, which was robbing him of breath and which was caused by a cancerous stomach tumor.

Two years into the nursing program, the 67-year-old found himself on the other side of a hospital bed.

He didn't let the gastrointestinal stromal tumor slow him down -- in fact he graduated Thursday, just a semester behind his original plans.

Stone said he never considered dropping out.

"When I started the program, I told my friends and family what I was doing. I allowed them to laugh; they accused me of not appreciating the fun of retirement," he said. "Having gone public with this, it never occurred to me that I wasn't going to finish."

He did take a lighter course load last fall -- dropping one class to accommodate his surgery and recovery. His down time took only about two weeks, he said.

His wife, Sallie, said she's not surprised cancer didn't slow him.

"I think like anyone else, he was shocked and distressed by that diagnosis," she said. "But what he was mostly upset about was he was worried he would have to drop a course or two."

Leigh Stone even turned the experience into a lesson in nursing. He watched what his nurses did for him and made mental notes on what to replicate or avoid.

Deborah Merwin, a member of the TCL nursing faculty, said Stone's experience will help him be a better nurse.

"I would think anyone diagnosed with something like that who came across a patient with a similar diagnosis -- we can all be sympathetic, but he would be empathetic, too," she said.

Stone's cancer is as cured as cancer can ever be, he said. The tumor was removed, and his treatment is complete.

And on Thursday, he wrapped up his work in the nursing program. All that remains to become eligible for a job in his field is an exam to become licensed as a registered nurse.

Leigh Stone's eager to get to work. Sallie Stone said she's looking forward to her husband tackling his second career after retiring from the pharmaceutical industry before the couple moved to Beaufort in 2003.

"People who have known him all his life have said, 'Of course, this is the perfect thing for Leigh to do,' " she said. "If you were in the emergency room and saw Leigh, you'd know everything would be all right. He's just calm and level-headed."

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

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