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Pomp and tough circumstances: Mom and son graduate despite cancer, homelessness

Patricia Davis and son Kenneth McCray have been through so much hardship. But they finally have a reason to celebrate.
/ Source: TODAY

Patricia Love Davis and her son Kenneth McCray have been through a lot together. Over the years, Davis battled lymphoma, lost her job and the two experienced homelessness. But after all that hardship, the two had a reason to celebrate when they graduated from South Florida’s Broward College together last week.

“It was so cool to be graduating with my baby,” Davis, 50, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, told TODAY. “I don’t think he was as excited as I was.”

Even though Kenneth McCray had to put off college to work, he knew he would always return. He graduated with his mom this year.Courtesy Patricia Love Davis

He wasn’t. McCray, 25, rolled his eyes as his mom gushed about him earning an associate's degree in computer science. But he is happy they both fulfilled their dreams. He had to put off college after high school to work and his mom put it on hold because of illness and unemployment.

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“It was still exciting (for me) but probably a little bit less exciting than it was for my mom,” McCray told TODAY with a laugh.

It hasn’t been easy for Davis or McCray to get to graduation. When McCray was just six, his father died from an aneurysm. Just five years later, Davis learned she had a rare form of Hodgkins lymphoma and started treatment. McCray — who had seen his father hooked up to tubes and machines for life support — felt terrified that he’d lose his mom, too.

“He always associated going to the hospital (with dying),” Davis explained.

When he was just 11, McCray found his mom unconscious on the couch after a cancer treatment. Confused, he thought his mom was napping, so decided to do the same. It wasn’t until later he learned that his mother was actually in a coma, and his grandmother was the one who realized it and sought help. He still has a hard time facing the memory.

“I just block it out. I was able to get past it, but it still gets to me,” he said.

After Davis finished treatment, she went into remission and has been cancer-free for 13 years. But in 2012, she lost her job after the state closed the branch of the state department of financial services where she worked.

The two lived off her savings, but in 2013, lost their home and struggled to find a new one. Landlords hesitated to rent to Davis because she had no income.

“We stayed in a hotel for a little while and then the money ran out,” Davis said. “We were bouncing around (to) friends and family.”

Patricia Love Davis and her son experienced a lot together, including homelessness. But she stressed to son Kenneth McCray the importance of being strong and following dreams.Courtesy Patricia Love Davis

After high school, McCray began working to help his mom. Still, he always knew he would return to college, to fulfill his career dreams.

“Since I was little, I always had ideas in my head and never had the knowledge to do it,” he said. “That is basically what inspired me to be a computer programmer.”

Davis received her associate's degree in criminal justice, an area in which she became interested when she helped investigate white-collar crime at her state job. During their time at college the two only had one class together, math. (Davis received the better grade)

But none of her grades came easily. She has short-term memory problems, which makes studying and test-taking challenging. Doctors aren’t sure if the coma caused those problems or if she suffered memory loss from cancer treatment.

“(Remembering things) was my greatest struggle in school,” she said.

When Kenneth McCray was only 6, his father passed away. Just five years later he had to watch his mom go through cancer treatments.Courtesy Patricia Love Davis

For now, McCray is working as a bus boy and they plan to move to Kissimmee, where he will continue studying computer science, and plans to go on to earn his bachelor's degree. He hopes that others will look at him and his mom as an example of what’s possible.

“You can make it through anything,” he said. “Keep doing it until you get to the end.”