Journey Coleman is a young woman on a mission. The easy part’s done – she is the first official graduate of Vance County High School’s Class of 2022. Vance County Schools held a graduation ceremony – just for her – on Thursday, July 29 at 3 p.m.
The hard part is yet to come, but Coleman has been determined since she was a little girl, her mother says. The hard part? Beating cancer.
Journey is the younger daughter of Sherronda Minor of Henderson and Richie Coleman of Fremont. She turned 18 in March, just a few months after getting the life-altering news that she had a rare form of cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma.
Her mother spoke with WIZS News last week from her daughter’s hospital room at UNC Hospitals, where she receives her care. She got a chemo treatment on Wednesday, but by Thursday, she had spiked a fever of 102.3 and so back to the hospital she went. She developed pneumonia, Minor said. The chemo compromises her immune system and can cause complications.
When hospital staff suggested she may not be able to attend the graduation, her mother told the 75 or so in attendance at the graduation that Journey didn’t even consider that an option. VCS Superintendent Dr. Cindy Bennett, along with school board chair Linda Cobb and members of Omega Phi Psi, Inc. and other district officials joined VCHS Principal Rey Horner at the commencement.
“She wasn’t due to graduate until next year,” Minor said. But Journey insisted on completing her course work early. She was not convinced by either her mother or her guidance counselor to shoot for perhaps a mid-year graduation in December, since she spends so much time in hospital getting treatments.
“And here she is, graduating,” Minor said. She said it was heartbreaking to hear her daughter say to her, “Mommy, I just knew I was going to die before I graduate.”
<Click Play for the Graduation Ceremony Audio>
“She had her computer at the hospital,” Minor said. “She was getting chemo and still doing schoolwork.” The plan hit a slight snag when she couldn’t find her charger cord and she couldn’t send her Math 4 work electronically, recalled Journey’s mom. Enter Journey’s godmother, who also happens to work at Vance County High School. She picked up the packet of work and delivered it to school so it could be checked off.
Minor said Journey’s cancer is very rare. It affects the soft muscle tissue. And that’s just what happened with Journey – she complained of pain in her foot. She was visiting her father in Fremont and the parents decided to take her to an orthopedist and podiatrist. After an initial consult on Wednesday, x-rays on Thursday and then an MRI, the parents got the phone call no parent wants to get: “They called us back the next day and said ‘We need to talk,’” Minor recalled.
She started chemotherapy treatments in early October 2020. Since then, doctors tell Minor that Journey’s Stage 4 cancer has spread; despite this news, Journey and her family are still hoping, still praying.
“She’s fighting it unbelievably,” Minor said. “She’s very strong.”
And, once her body has had a chance to recover from the chemo treatments, Journey’s a normal teenager. She and extended family recently returned from a trip to Florida’s SeaWorld, Minor added.
Minor speaks about white counts, updating chemo regimens and regular stays in the hospital for treatments. She knows firsthand about how this all works – she is a cancer survivor herself. She was diagnosed in 2016 and received her care at Maria Parham Health. She is healthy today and said that, back in 2016, she didn’t understand God’s plan for her, why she was having to deal with cancer.
With more clarity now, she said her daughter has a very strong support group of family and friends. Chances are, they all helped to celebrate Journey’s high school graduation Thursday.
The post-graduation festivities include a meal with Journey’s hand-picked favorites: Buttered corn on the cob, collards and ham hock, potato salad, ribs and a ham that her dad is going to prepare. Oh, and cake.
A fitting meal for a deserving young woman and newest graduate of Vance County High School.