Texas A&M Student Earns Degree While Caring For Her Sister

Tori Gochnour and Evie Wells

Tori Gochnour (left) and Evie Wells, one year before Evie’s diagnosis

By Heather Rodriguez, Texas A&M University College of Liberal Arts

Sometimes, we all need a push to keep going. For upcoming Texas A&M University anthropology graduate Victoria (Tori) Gochnour, that push often came in the form of her sister, Evie Wells.

Although Evie was 11 years older than Tori, the two were very close. They had followed similar educational paths: Evie earned her master’s degree while in her 40s, after having five boys; Tori finished her undergraduate degree this year at the age of 43, after having three boys and traveling around the world with her husband David Gochnour ’05, who served active duty in the U.S. Army. Today, David is a surgeon at the College Station Medical Center and an Army reservist.

“Being a non-traditional student—let’s face it, an older student—is tough,” Tori said. “I would call my sister every day on the way to school, and she would continually encourage me to keep going.”

But for Tori, maintaining the drive to keep going was even tougher than for most. In 2015, right before Tori’s first semester at Texas A&M, Evie was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. In addition to being a student, wife and mother, Tori assumed the role of her sister’s caregiver. Every Monday, she would drive Evie to Houston for chemotherapy to allow Evie’s husband—also named David—to focus on their children and keep the household going.

“The amazing thing is the support I got from my professors,” Tori said. “My bioarchaeology professor in particular, Dr. [Lori] Wright, told me, ‘Be there with your sister, do whatever you need to do. Family comes first. We will figure this out.’”

The following semester, Tori found out that Evie had less time than the doctors had originally anticipated.

“I found out she only had four weeks to live. I didn’t know what to do, so I went and talked to Marco [Valadez, her academic adviser],” she said. “He played a huge role in whatever support I needed, and he helped me navigate everything.”

Tori decided to drop all but two classes that semester and spent every moment she could with Evie in hospice care. During that time, she maintained constant communication with Wright and was able to complete the courses.

Although Evie passed away in February 2016, she lives on through her loved ones. It is because of Evie, and her Aggie family, that Tori will accept her diploma on Dec. 15.

“I didn’t want to go back to school, but my brother-in-law told me, ‘You know what your sister would say,’” she said. “And he was right. She would never have wanted me to give up; she never gave up.”

This story published originally on the College of Liberal Arts website.

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Media contact: Heather Rodriguez, liberal arts communication specialist, at 979-845-6061, or hrodriguez@tamu.edu; or Elena Watts, marketing and communications specialist, at 979-458-8412 or elenaw@tamu.edu


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