Eliesha DelMastro has always had a passion for nursing, but “life happened” and her dream of becoming a nurse took a backseat.
Almost 20 years later, DelMastro is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Augusta University’s College of Nursing. The long road to graduation hit many speed bumps, but she has been proud to pass along life’s lessons learned along the way to her three children, Anthony, 18, Savannah, 15, and Parker, 12.
“Going back to college, I wanted to encourage them to either go to college or find something you are passionate about and pursue that,” she said. “I also wanted to show them that you can make mistakes and bad things can happen in life, but, if you’re consistent and there’s something that you really want to do, you can accomplish that.”
Obstacles along the way
She married at 18 and had her son a year later, while her family prepared to move for her then-husband’s military assignments. During their time together, they moved to Savannah, Georgia; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Knox, Kentucky; and Okinawa, Japan, before arriving at Fort Gordon.
DelMastro enrolled in a program for dental assistants, a field she felt would facilitate easy job transfers during deployments and military moves. While she liked her dental assisting job, she still pined for a career she was passionate about.
DelMastro emulated her parents when she got married and started having a family young because that’s what they did, and at the time, it was the one thing she was sure she wanted. However, in her marriage, she found herself in an abusive and unhealthy relationship. When her husband was deployed, she worked and took care of her children on her own. When he was home, she found herself living in a calculated environment over which she had no control.
After initially supporting her decision to pursue nursing school while he was deployed, her former husband “stepped in and took it all away from me.” At the time, she didn’t see what he was doing, but her friends and family did, she said.
DelMastro said she had developed a mentality of “I can’t survive on my own” because she was young and had little children. In 2013, her husband left, and she was finally able to divorce and leave the situation. She decided to remain in Augusta to give her kids a sense of stability after feeling like they had lost everything.
“We lost our house, and I had to sell my car. My kids and I went from not stressing out about paying bills to barely being able to afford basic groceries. We had help from co-workers and family, even though I tried rejecting it. They would sneak money into my purse and drop food off to my house; my kids and I moved into a 600-square-foot apartment, and, for four years, that’s where we lived until we got back on track.”
Her boss at the dental office offered her a promotion that increased her salary and allowed her to provide a little bit more for her family, but it also took her away from patient care, which she loved. Later, she took on a second job at night, resulting in her working about 18 hours a day. There were times her kids went with her to the office to have dinner and sleep.
“It wasn’t ideal, and I was ashamed, but I look back at it now, and those are probably some of the best years we ever had.”
‘We’ve all got different stressors’
Finally in a good place in her life, DelMastro started exploring the idea of nursing school again. She finished the core classes that were required, and some of the classes she had taken previously were transferred. From there, she applied for College of Nursing’s program and was accepted.
She is grateful to her former bosses for the flexibility they provided, but once it came time to dedicate herself to her studies, she had to leave the dental office. She got a night job at Augusta University Medical Center as a patient care technician in Labor and Delivery.
DelMastro didn’t like the term “non-traditional student” because she felt it was a negative stereotype of someone who didn’t live their life the way society says they “should” have. Once she joined the nursing program and made friends, some of whom are younger than her by 10 years or more, she realized everyone has something going on in their lives that is considered an obstacle.
“It made me realize that, ’OK, we might be different ages from diverse backgrounds, but we’ve all got different stressors in our lives.’ That really made me feel a lot better about being a non-traditional student.”
DelMastro knows her degree would not have happened without the help of her former co-workers and family who pitched in during her time of need. She has surrounded herself with good people she can count on for support at AU, which includes professors such as Lisa Prince-Clark, DNP, who began as her clinical instructor but quickly turned into a mentor and confidante.
“She and I kind of have similar personalities; we tell it how it is, but she has a funny way about it,” DelMastro said. “She gives you that tough love, and she really pushed me outside of my comfort zone early into nursing school, telling me what I was going to do and how I was going to do it when it came to patient care. It made me a lot more confident in a clinical setting. She was always a trusted resource that I could go to.”