New high school graduate Sharon Le Berthon of Temple City is a young lady who knows first-hand about the power of prayer and what it’s like to be part of a community that cares.
Despite numerous health setbacks from her cystic fibrosis (CF), 18-year-old Sharon graduated this month from St. Monica Academy in Pasadena and credits the support and faith of her classmates and teachers along with her family to help her succeed.
“When I was in the hospital,” she explains, “my [school] sisters would come and visit me regularly and tell me, ‘The whole school said a whole decade of the rosary for you today.’ That was so helpful and touching for me. It meant the world.”
Diagnosed with CF as a baby, Sharon has had her share of daily treatments, medical procedures and, recently, numerous hospitalizations that took her weeks away from school and family life with three sisters and two brothers. CF — a genetic disease that usually appears in children and young adults — causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tracts and other areas of the body, and can be life-threatening.
Growing up, Sharon rarely contended with CF. “For a long time I had no idea how serious it was,” she says.
From fourth to seventh grade, she had regular doctor visits but was never hospitalized. In seventh grade, however, she had surgery and was in the hospital for the first time because she was getting thin and weak.”
Doctors at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles inserted a permanent feeding tube into Sharon’s intestines which helps her obtain her necessary 4,000 daily calories. Once that tube was in place, Sharon started gaining weight and growing.
That hospitalization was only the beginning for Sharon and her family. Sharon describes her annual “tune-ups” where she is hospitalized for a minimum of two weeks “where you get pumped with heavy duty antibiotics to help you get your lungs back on track.”
Difficulties arose this school year when Sharon was hospitalized for the entire month of March which put extra pressure on the senior. Once released, she had to make up missed homework and catch up to current course work. In the middle of all that, she needed to give herself IVs at home and at school which had challenging complications.
“I would get so disoriented from them,” she says. “Sometimes I would just end up laughing for no reason at all in my classes.”
But Sharon credits her teachers at St. Monica for working with her to make sure that she finished what she needed to in order to graduate. “They modified the homework but it was still very hard,” she says. “They didn’t dumb it down at all!”
Sharon also is thankful for the school faith and that community prayer that she found in the weekly Masses. “Sometimes I got so tired from the school week and wondered, ‘Why am I even doing this anymore?’ And then you go to Mass and you remember, there is a purpose to everything. God has a way of making things work, no matter what.”
Her mother Celeste credits the school for giving her daughter a strong faith foundation. “Sharon has always been a strong young lady and she’s proud of that, but I have gone into her room and seen her praying the rosary, turning to our mother Mary in silent prayer,” Celeste says. “We might not always see our kids praying, but they do. My prayer is always with her.”
Celeste also found support with fellow families, teachers and staff at the school as well as her fellow parishioners at St. Luke the Evangelist in Temple City. “The first words out of their mouths to me are, ‘We’ve not only prayed for her, but we’ve added her to our novena or rosary intentions,’ and that is the most comforting thing to hear,” she says. “Especially when you know you can’t help your child and you just have to ‘Let Go and Let God.’”
Now, Sharon is setting more goals: college this fall (Cal State Channel Islands), a degree (chemistry major, biology minor) and, some day, backpack around Europe (“Vatican City is a must, along with Greece and Italy”).
Those goals will take extra planning and a few more steps. But Sharon is as determined to achieve them as she was to graduate this year.
“I didn’t want to say that I couldn’t graduate because of my disease,” she says. “With family, faith and friends, nothing is impossible.”