There's a saying by an unknown author, "A daughter is someone you laugh with, dream with, and love with all your heart." For one local mother-daughter pair, that saying goes further than words.
Over the past year, Alyssa and Kara Jarvis of Royalton have laughed and cried, dreamed, inspired and loved one another as they traveled through what is arguably one of the most challenging programs offered at Rend Lake College: associate degree nursing (ADN) to become a registered nurse (RN).
Together, they faced personal and academic challenges, highs and lows, and successes and failures -- all with a shoulder to lean on. Earlier this month, their combined paths to success came to a close as they walked across the RLC stage at the ADN pinning ceremony.
Only a few days earlier, the duo had sat down together to share their experiences. Through tears, mother Alyssa tried to describe the journey she shared with her daughter.
"I could not have done it without her. I really couldn't," she said. "There were the technical computer things. I'm 47, it's not something I've had a lot of experience in. She's young, she's grown up with the computer, and she had it the year prior. I could go, 'Hey help, I don't know what I'm doing here.' I truly don't think I would have made it through without her going, 'Mom, here,' and getting me through. I couldn't have done it without her and I couldn't be more proud of her."
Alyssa continued, "I wasn't alone. You can have a friend in the program and it's great, but to have somebody who truly knows your heart and has lived with you, who sees you at your best and at your worst -- to have that is indescribable."
In response, Kara managed to say "To my mom" before also breaking down in tears.
"She's got my back, so I have to thank her for that. She understood when no one else did. You can have really close friends in the program, but it helps to have someone who knows what you're going through," explained Kara. "There are days where you are so confident, but then there are days where you're thinking, 'Why the heck am I here?'"
Facing her mother, Kara added, "I want to thank you for being my backbone and continuing to push me to go further, to be better, and to never stop. Without you, I'd probably be insane right now. It's helped. It's made things easier. Easier to deal with it having someone there."
But first, let's go back, as neither knew their paths would come together in this unexpected way.
Alyssa Jarvis started on her journey to RLC's ADN program over two decades ago when she became a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and immediately decided to go into the workforce instead of continuing into ADN classes. For her, family life and nursing have gone hand-in-hand for most of her life.
"I was an LPN for 24 years before I decided to come back and get my RN. I was a CNA (certified nurse assistant) before that, and I actually had my first daughter, Kara's older sister, on my first finals week of LPN school," said Alyssa. "Going back was always something I knew I wanted to do. Service, taking care of people, that was something I knew from early on that I wanted to do, to help people."
Some years ago, Alyssa contemplated taking the Bridge course at RLC, a class specifically designed for LPNs who want to get back into the classroom and finish the ADN program. This class takes place of the first year of the two-year ADN program. However, a combination of complications kept her from making the leap.
"It didn't work out for me before to bridge in. I had to test the PSB (psychological service bureau) to enter, and I'd taken it, but then it wasn't good because the program didn't make. Then I realized I needed to take A&P (anatomy and physiology) because I'd taken it too long ago, it was too old," said Alyssa.
After sorting through those complications, Alyssa took the plunge and completed the bridge course -- Intro to Health Concepts -- last year, just as her daughter Kara was finishing up her first year of ADN classes. The trip there hadn't been easy for Kara either.
"Originally, I wanted to be a Marine. I think God has always given me the heart of compassion and loving people. I always liked helping. When I was younger, people would always come to me if they were hurt," said Kara. "I remember I called my senior year of high school. I wanted to take the PSB, but I was already too late, so instead I got set up to take my generals and get all of those classes out of the way. After that first year of generals, I tested and started (the ADN program)."
Kara continued, "My dad said, 'If you make it into the program, be an RN, and if you don't, go and be a Marine.' It was a hard decision, but I tested and made it. I think it was seeing my mom and other family members go into the medical field that led me this direction. Throughout my first year, that's when she started thinking, I'll bridge in and graduate with you."
Then, in the same classes together, a new set of challenges arose, but with those challenges came memories neither would trade away.
"At the beginning, I thought it would be fun. I thought, 'I just want us both to pass.' But we're both pretty competitive people, and we both have that joy of winning. So if I beat her by one point on a test, it was great," joked Kara. "It was serious too. As long as we both pass, that's how it was."
As the parent, Alyssa found her natural instinct to be a caregiver to her daughter conflicting with her responsibilities in the classroom. The two found themselves in a bit of a role- reversal.
"Of course, as mom, I want to take care of her, but in reality, I couldn't have done it without her," said Alyssa. "When I took my LPN classes, everything was in books. There wasn't anything online. To go from hardback books to doing almost everything online, that was really stressful for me. What would take her two hours would take me three times as long."
Kara added, "It was nice, because I had her there, but I also found myself wondering sometimes, 'Is my mom eating lunch?' Or 'Does she have this stuff done?' Growing up, she was the one making sure I was taken care of. When she bridged in, I had to see it like, 'I have to make sure my mom is doing OK.' It was neat and I enjoyed it."
The ADN program itself presented class projects, examinations, presentations, clinicals, and countless other work for the duo to complete throughout the year. Despite the constant work, Kara said having her mother by her side made the pressure seem smaller.
"Even though the program is stressful, and this last year was super stressful, I feel like it was less knowing that my mom knows what I went through my first year," explained Kara. "I remember coming home, just so stressed out and thinking my life's over because I didn't do great on a test, and people were telling me to study more. You don't really understand until you're in the program. It was nice that, once she got in, my mom understood where I was coming from."
Here, Alyssa interjected with a smirk, "I'd just tell everyone to shut up and leave her alone."
Kara continued, "I think it was more rewarding to do together. It was no one is left behind. She has prior experience, so if I didn't understand something, she could put it into a different way of teaching with her experience and it really helped me. It helped studying too, because we could give each other tips on how to remember things. It was the mentality of, 'If I'm passing, you're passing. If I'm going down, you're going down.' No matter what, we had each other."
That focused mindset and positive attitude put Alyssa in the role of mother to others with whom she shares no blood relation in the classroom.
"There are still some who call me mom. I still don't think they know my first name," laughed Alyssa. "They just call me mom or Kara's mom. It was really nice. I just say, 'Never, never give up. Just keep plugging on and you'll get there. It may take you awhile and you may pull your hair out, but you're going to get there.'"
When talking to others interested in the ADN program, Alyssa has more words of advice. She said, "Don't look at what others are doing. You can't compare yourself to anyone else's standards. You have to set your own standard and you have to rise to meet that standard -- whatever it takes, however many hours it takes, however you have to study. You do that for you. Don't base it on anyone else."
Kara, however, sees it with a younger set of eyes. Her advice? Simply to put in the work.
"For people my age, you're coming in and thinking you should be a lot further along than you actually are. My mom just said, 'Never compare yourself to someone else.' It's true. You're your own person. Put in the work. It's rewarding and it's difficult, but you're smart, no matter what. You will always be you after the program, so stick it on out and do whatever you have to do. It's two years, it's definitely doable."
Together, the Jarvis women wrapped up their final exams last Tuesday. They two were inseparable over the last year as they did it all together, from homework to class projects, and even the same clinical training at Herrin Hospital.
While there, Kara made such a good impression that the hospital decided to hire her after graduation to work in the emergency room. Alyssa, however, has much different plans.
"I'm leaning more toward hospice, which is somewhat unusual for someone just getting out of the RN program. Usually, they want to work the floor and do all the high energy work, but I have [done that]," explained Alyssa. "More than that, I want to be at the bridge between the scariness that comes after your life here on Earth. I want to be able to help the families and the patients who go through that, to be able to cope, and to be able to have a little bit of comfort and guidance and support with what's coming next and what to expect."
Alyssa also says her long-term goal is to return to the classroom -- in more ways than one.
"I think we'll probably both go on to the BSN (bachelor of science in nursing degree) and maybe further," said Alyssa. "Eventually, I would like to go on and become an educator. I'd like to get my nurse practitioner (certification) and then be able to go back into the classroom and hopefully be the driving force behind some new LPNs and RNs and CNAs.
Kara agreed with her mother in that she also intends to continue her education. She said, "I would like to work a little bit, but I think I'm going to start this fall or next spring on my BSN. I don't want to take too much time off, but I think a little after graduation sounds nice."
Both also attributed some of their success to RLC's nursing faculty.
"I want to give a big shout out to our teachers. They made it so much easier for us. Susan [Wiley, nursing instructor] was great, she was always a huge support. Lynn [Salesberry, nursing instructor] was very encouraging along the way," said Alyssa.
Kara added, "It made it easier to have teachers who really cared. They wanted to know, not only about school, but just in general -- how are we doing. Then, when we did have questions, we didn't feel bad about just asking. It's been so good."
To learn more about RLC's ADN program, visit rlc.edu/ allied-health/nursing.