One Pot at a Time: Marilyn Farrell Overcomes Breast Cancer and Earns College Degree

Excited, eager, energized…these are all words to describe Marilyn Farrell when she made the decision to begin the journey of earning her bachelor’s degree from University of Mount Olive. With two associate’s degrees already under her belt, she decided to take the leap of faith and begin a new challenge.
Farrell enrolled in the Early Childhood Education (ECE) program at University of Mount Olive at RTP in 2008. Upon beginning her classes, she heard a speech from a professor that would soon become a transformative part of her education, and her life.
The professor said, “Over the coming two years in our cohort, you will have to remember that you can only stir one cooking pot at a time.”
“He used this analogy to tell us that there would be times we would have to make choices between our personal life, our work, and school,” Farrell said.  “He stressed that if we stayed focused, we would make it, even if we had to stop and stir a different cooking pot for a time.”
For Farrell, the true meaning of these words came in September 2009, when she was diagnosed with stage three aggressive breast cancer. After receiving this news, Farrell made the difficult decision to temporarily “stop stirring” the education pot, and begin focusing on her health. Farrell took a nine month break from school during which time she underwent surgery, chemo, and radiation.
“I spent that time just taking care of myself,” Farrell said.  “I realized with marriage, kids, career, and school, that this was the first time I had really stopped and focused on what I needed to do to live and be healthy.”
The possibility of returning to school after treatment was never a doubt in Farrell’s mind. As soon as she was able, she re-enrolled in the ECE program. Now just days away from her May 7th graduation, Farrell says her entire outlook on life has been transformed by her experience.
“Cancer forces you to focus, to prioritize, and to learn what’s important,” she said.  “I don’t sweat the small stuff.  When somebody says you have cancer, you realize it’s all small stuff.  Now, that I am done with treatment, I get it, I have the courage to move forward!  There was no question that I would continue pursuing my dream.  The hardest part was adjusting the dream.  My dream is now to live and make decisions based on what will enhance my life, and what I can contribute.”
Soon to be a college graduate Farrell looks forward to one day opening a family home childcare to serve as a model childcare program, and possibly pursuing more education and professional development.
As for her day-to-day life, she says, “I have so much more gratitude for everything in my life.  I have realized just how strong I really am.  I have discovered the true meaning of courage, going forward despite having fear.  Now, I want to live fully, one day at a time.”
Farrell currently resides in Cary, NC. She plans to celebrate her graduation by attending her daughter’s graduation from college, and her son’s graduation from high school. Farrell is now cancer free.
University of Mount Olive will graduate approximately 350 students at its 57th spring Commencement set for Saturday, May 7, at 2:00 PM in Kornegay Arena on the campus of University of Mount Olive.
University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The College, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park, Washington and Jacksonville.  For more information, visit