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Mother-daughter duo celebrates graduation after bout with cancer

June 8, 2018

What was supposed to be a relaxing Thanksgiving Break quickly turned into a student’s worst nightmare.

It was 2015. Crystal Childress was finishing her senior year at Liberty University, where she was studying digital media and working as a resident assistant in campus housing. Her mother, Betty Cooke, said she wasn’t feeling well after dinner, so she decided to get checked out at the hospital. That visit led to more tests and appointments, and eventually to a cancer diagnosis.

“It was really hard,” Childress said. “My mom lost her mom at 19, and I thought that there was a chance I could come out of this without my mom, too.”

Fast forward three-and-a-half years. On May 19, the mother and daughter celebrated huge accomplishments at Commencement. Childress completed her M.A. in Strategic Communication, and Cooke completed her bachelor’s degree in biblical studies from her home in Richmond, Va., through Liberty’s online program. It was something the two were not sure would happen when Cooke began chemotherapy.

“There was just a lot of uncertainty,” Childress said. “We didn’t really know what was going to happen. She went through treatments, and then the cancer came back. It was just a process of trying not to lose faith.”

Cooke, however, pushed through the discouragement and worry. Already well into her degree, she had no desire to quit.

“When I got that diagnosis, I was like, ‘No, God’s got this. He has it covered,’” Cooke said. “I just turned it over to God. My mind didn’t even think about cancer or death or dying.”

Childress stepped in to help. After the surgeries to remove the cancer did not go as planned and Cooke was required to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time, Childress drove to Richmond each weekend.

“My mom didn’t want to lose that semester of work,” she said. “During the hospital visits, I would bring along my computer to do my work, and she would ask me to email her professors to tell them what was going on.”

Cooke credits the guidance of the Holy Spirit in helping her through the rough days.

“Every time I did my assignments or wrote a paper, I would say, ‘Help me, Holy Spirit,’” Cooke said. “I passed everything — not by my strength, but by God’s.”

Despite the uncertainty, Childress didn’t lose faith either.

“As much as my mom is mine, she’s the Lord’s first,” she said. “This season of faith just reminded me of who I am and who my mom is. Knowing that the Lord had put us there for a reason, I couldn’t be upset if the Lord wanted her back.”

After all that, sharing Commencement together was a huge blessing.

“I’m so proud of her for getting her degree despite all the hard things,” she said. “Now with her working on getting her master’s degree, she’s showing women that despite their age or circumstances going on in their lives, they can follow their calling.

For many graduates who earned their degrees through the university’s online program, Commencement is a doubly meaningful time. The pride of celebrating a milestone achievement is coupled with the magic of setting foot on campus — some for the very first time. These graduates have enjoyed the convenience of studying across the country or overseas without having to uproot their families or careers, and their stories are all woven into the fabric of Liberty’s history.

Read more inspiring stories from the Class of 2018:

Hero, Survivor, Graduate

Decorated military member advances career while studying online

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