When Jessica Armstrong receives her diploma June 7, her parents will be in her thoughts as she gets ready to pursue a career in nursing

by: BARBARA SHERMAN - GRADUATION BOUND  - Jessica Armstrong, sitting outside Sherwood High School, has had a tough year with both her parents dying, but she has a bright future and is going to Linfield College in the fall to earn a degree in nursing.When Jessica Armstrong takes her seat beside her fellow Sherwood High School graduates on the athletic field June 7, her thoughts will turn to her parents, who both passed away within the past year.

“At the graduation ceremony, I will definitely be thinking about my parents and how much I wish they could be there,” she said. “But I’ll look up and see all my family and friends, and know that they are there, watching me from wherever they are.

“I know they will be on my mind when I grab my diploma because finally all the hard work I did to make them proud paid off. Also, I’ll be very excited to take the next step in my future.”

Far from facing the future alone, Jessica is lucky to have a huge group of supporters to fill in for her parents.

“My mom died last July 12, and my dad died March7,” said Jessica, 18, sitting outside the school on a warm May afternoon.

She has spent her entire life in Sherwood, attending Archer Glen Elementary and Sherwood Middle School before SHS, but her life changed forever in February 2012, “when in the same week, I learned both my parents had less than a year to live,” she said.

“I’ve been taking care of my dad for the past 10 years because he had problem after problem. He had diabetes and hepatitis C, he broke his back, he got an infection in his rotator cups and couldn’t use his arms, he had to have one leg amputated below the knee, and he got an infection from a spider bite.”

Meanwhile, Jessica’s mom was diagnosed with stage IV brain and lung tumors.

“She had headaches and a cough and went to see doctors, and by the time it was diagnosed, the cancer had spread,” Jessica said.

Her parents had divorced when Jessica was young, and she was living with her dad, but when he had to move to an intensive wound care facility, her mom, who was undergoing chemotherapy, moved in with her until her dad could move back home.

Jessica’s mom was only 51 when she died, and her dad was 53 at the time of his passing, but they left her with a built-in family to support her.

“I am the youngest of eight,” Jessica said of her older siblings.

Her dad previously had six children, with Sarah being the oldest, although the second to the oldest has passed away; her mom previously had one daughter, LeAnn, who in the line-up of the eight is third from the youngest.

After Jessica’s dad died, she moved to Newberg to live with her boyfriend and his mom; her boyfriend had helped her take care of her dad, and Jessica was allowed to finish her senior year at SHS.

“I am closest to Le Ann and Sarah,” Jessica said. “LeAnn stepped in when my mom passed away, and Sarah has stepped in for my dad. I have best friends who would have taken me in. My best friend’s aunt thought about adopting me. I had many options and doors that opened.

“I’m very fortunate not to be an only child because I still have a lot of support. I know my parents wouldn’t want me to throw away all my hard work – that’s what keeps me going. They both knew I’d be OK – they told me that many times.”

And her future looks bright.

Linfield not only accepted Jessica, but “I got a very good scholarship package,” she said. Jessica plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing, maybe specializing in pediatrics or hospice.

“Both my parents had hospice, and I got close to my mom’s hospice nurse last summer,” said Jessica, who has worked since she was 16 and also is getting Social Security.

All that is important, because according to Jessica, “LeAnn and Sarah both told me that not going to college is not an option.”

Jessica will be going to work at Subway in McMinnville, a job she will continue once she starts at Linfield. “It will be full time this summer and then part time,” she said.

Between caring for her parents and working, Jessica hasn’t had a lot of time for extra-curricular activities at SHS, “but I did LINK crew this year and took AP classes, plus last year I did ceramics,” she said.

In the meantime, “I’m going to try to have a good summer,” Jessica said. “I believe everything happens for a reason.”

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