BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Students looked up from their lunch breaks outdoors on Southern University's campus. Many of them stopped their conversations mid-sentence to watch a column of students and teachers, about 250 people, moving in a mass walk from the LK Haynes School of Nursing building across campus.
Many participants wore t-shirts that read "SUSON Walks for the Cardiac Queen." The focus of this mass show of support is a School of Nursing teacher who had taught students since 2009. Kymberly McCoy lost her battle with breast cancer last June.
"We know that it was inevitable, but we were not prepared at all for it. You know, " said Assistant Professor Juanita Garner. "She did everything. She did clinicals, she lectured on cardiac. We coined her as our 'Cardiac Queen' because she was a cardiac nurse at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. She would come here and teach the students, she would do clinicals, and she still worked at the hospital. So she really worked hard!"
Students who had already graduated wanted to take part.
"Graduates who are out of state have reached out and contacted me, have bought shirts," said Garner. "They have said, 'I can't make it, but I want to give a donation. Or I want to buy a shirt, I won't be there that day, but I'll wear it to work on the day you're wearing it on that day you're walking'."
I found a group of graduates who were on campus Monday to participate. I asked what they remember about McCoy's lessons in the classrooms. For one thing, they said she was always there!
"I had her for clinicals. She was always there," said LaDre Jeanpierre.
Stevette Banford said she taught her "critical thinking." Kaylyn Chriss added that there was a lesson in the mere fact she was still standing there.
"She came to class all the time. You would never know that she was feeling any type of way," said Chriss. "She'd just come even though she was feeling bad. She would come if she had chemo on certain days. She would be here. She was always here."
"We're looking at her, and she's fighting this cancer, that means I can do anything!" said Banford.
Antonette Carter, a petite graduating senior in the Nursing School, said McCoy had personally urged her to act. Carter said she approached McCoy after class.
"I went up to her and I said 'Cancer runs in my family'. And she said, 'Make sure you guys go!'" said Carter. "I was trying to put it off. I wasn't gonna go until school was over, because I don't need the stress, but I decided I'm just gonna go. And then I took a genetic test, because she talked about that too."
Up at the front of the Queen of Cardiac Walk, McCoy's family carried the banner. At times, they were shedding a tear.
They tell me it means so much, seeing the ways Kym's life touched students; seeing what she meant to them.
Kym's husband Michael McCoy said he's thankful that people remember Kym's struggle. Her cancer would appear, vanish and reappear.
"For ten years, we were fighting it up and down, but the last two years was really hard on me," he said. "The school was there for me, they were very supportive."
Students who participated made a donation.
"We're donating to Susan G. Komen and Mary Bird Perkins Radiation because her treatment was at Mary Bird, said Garner. "We're also gonna give a scholarship to a graduating senior nursing student. The School of Nursing has what we call a pinning ceremony, the night before graduation, and we are going to give the scholarship away that night. It's going to be the Kimberly McCoy Clinical Service Award."
After students returned to the Nursing School building after their memorial walk, cleanup began and someone had an idea.
"Let's take the pink balloons outside and release them," someone said.
About two dozen pink balloons were separated and handed to individual students. As they counted down to one and released the balloons, you could hear the students make an audible sigh. The pale pink balloons slowly rose into a brilliantly blue sky. It was beautiful.
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