Tarleton Commencement Speaker Battled Cancer on Her Way to Degree

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STEPHENVILLE — Bryanna Scheuler is graduating with a master’s degree in applied psychology, but before she gets her diploma at the 9 a.m. ceremony Saturday, she’ll have a few things to say about perseverance.

If anyone has the right to give such a speech …

Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma while an undergraduate (she holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Tarleton), she battled brutal symptoms and treatment side effects.

“It went undiagnosed for quite a while, so by the time I was diagnosed I had lost 12 percent of my body weight,” she said. “I was having all sorts of crazy symptoms like blacking out driving. There were times I couldn’t walk across a room. It was pretty severe. By the time I was finally diagnosed I realized the reason I couldn’t breathe was because of the tumors.”

In her speech she’ll talk about dealing with cancer as a college student.

“With chemo brain, you forget things you wrote at the beginning of a sentence by the time you get to the end. I was taking writing-intensive courses, so I would do jumping jacks to get a little oxygen and blood to my brain, which would help me write one sentence. Then I’d have a coughing fit, so it would take 15 minutes to write a single sentence.

“I’ll give a very condensed version of feeling like giving up in a situation like that. But even if it’s at the point you’re crying on the floor, eventually you realize all you can do is rise. It’s not how can you do this, it’s how can you not.”

With chemotherapy behind her and feeling better, Bryanna is able to see her time at Tarleton through a clearer lens.

She moved to League City from Chadron, Neb., as a middle schooler and went through high school there. A first-generation college student, she came to Tarleton after being a zoology major at Texas A&M.

In Nebraska she had worked at animal clinics, stirring her passion for taking care of animals. It didn’t take long for the emotional strain of veterinary work to change her mind about a career.

“I quickly learned that vet school was not for me,” she said. “I’d already been admitted to A&M, though, and was kind of set on that. I was a junior before I let myself change my mind.”

With vet school in her rearview, she began searching for a psychology program.

“I looked up the best schools for studying psychology in Texas. The No. 1 was out of my tuition range. No. 2 was Tarleton, so I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ I moved to Tarleton and ended up falling in love with it. It was everything I had been looking for.”

Her master’s major has an emphasis on research, a specialty she found almost by accident.

“Basically, it’s statistics for psychology. I got into the honors program and was standing outside in the math hallway talking with a friend about my honors project and happened to mention I like math. Dr. (Thomas) Faulkenberry popped his head out of his office.

“‘Hey, you like math?’ he asked. ‘I have an idea.’ So I did my honors research project with him. He pulled me along into the beauty that is statistics.”

Statistics tormented Bryanna in high school, but studying with Dr. Faulkenberry altered her attitude. She now teaches courses in the subject and hopes to make it her career.

“In high school I hated statistics with a burning passion, but Dr. Faulkenberry broke it down logically, and it just clicked. That’s what I tell my students: Think about it rationally and statistics will start to make sense. It’s hard to find a teacher who simplifies things rather than mystifies things.”

Bryanna’s after-graduation plans are uncertain due to an unexpected chance to continue her education. She had intended to teach for a year, ideally at Tarleton.

“Then at the last minute there has been an opportunity for me to get into a PhD program, even though enrollment deadlines were last December. In some order of events I’ll get a PhD and teach psychology, statistics and related courses.”

Though she’s unsure what’s next, it’s not a stretch to figure she’ll handle whatever comes. She has plenty of experience with that already.

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