Cynthia Richardson walked a painful path to get where she is today, but every step was worth it, she says, because now she can use her story to motivate others to push through hard times.
Cynthia is a nurse practitioner at Prisma Health Tuomey Hospital, working at a job she loves: helping others get healthy. It took her nearly 20 years and thousands of miles to get here, and now she wants to share the lessons she learned along the way, to encourage others to "dream big."
Her new book - "Divine Destiny: Ordered Steps" - is an inspiring story of determination, hard work and faith. The most valuable lesson, she says, is realizing that if you don't have a goal, you will simply drift through life.
"I want to motivate people to believe in themselves," she says. "It doesn't matter where you were raised, what color you are, what kind of hard road you had to travel. If you believe that you can do something, and you work hard to get there, nothing can stop you. But you have to leap out in faith and grab it. The only person holding you back is the one you see in the mirror."
Vicki Towery, manager of the Palmetto Health-USC Tuomey Hospitalists group that Cynthia works for, said she's proud of her team member for completing the book and sharing the source of her drive.
"Cynthia is a kind and supportive member of the team," she said. "She demonstrates determination when caring for her patients and her family. She is a source of inspiration as she consistently goes above and beyond to provide and coordinate exceptional care."
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Cynthia grew up poor, raised by her grandparents after her mother left her and her siblings at their home in Sumter. Her grandmother was strict, "old-school," and the siblings had lots of work to do before and after school.
"She didn't finish high school, but she had wisdom. We had no help with homework, because my grandmother and grandfather could not read or write, but education was an obligation."
After high school, Cynthia was living in a subsidized apartment with her daughter. She had no car. Her shift at McDonalds began at 5 a.m.; she had to leave her home at 4 a.m. to walk the four miles. It was hard, but she did not want to continue to live in poverty.
"I wanted better for my daughter. I wanted to show her that with hard work, she could accomplish any goal she wanted to. I made up my mind to take every opportunity to improve myself."
She took advantage of a government program that helped single parents earn certification in various skilled jobs. She became a nursing assistant and started work in a nursing home. She still didn't have a car, and transporting her was a hardship for her grandfather, "but working in that nursing home set the trajectory for my life," she said. "I saw the nurses in their white caps and said, 'I can do that!'"
She enrolled in technical college, starting with remedial courses but working her way up through "relentless studying" to being accepted in the nursing program. She did well academically, but a few days before the semester ended, she learned she was failing her clinical course.
"The instructor told me I would never be a nurse. I was devastated, hurt beyond belief."
She called her mentor, a friend from Hopewell Nursing Home. Rita Holmes met her in the parking lot and sat with her for hours until she could stop crying. When the tears stopped, Cynthia had a new plan. She enrolled in Florence Darlington Technical College's nursing program.
"People tried to discourage me from driving an hour each way to go to nursing school, because I was still working the night shift at Hopewell and taking care of my daughter, but I did it. Making your life better can be a difficult journey. People will steal your dreams if you let them."
She earned her associate's degree, then a bachelor's degree. For two years, she drove three hours twice a week to Francis Marion University, while working full-time and caring for her daughter. She graduated in 1999.
She set her sights even higher: She wanted to become a nurse practitioner. She got her master's online, and that opened the door to the Medical University of South Carolina. In 2008, she realized her dream.
But then she faced her biggest obstacle of all. The day she was supposed to be walking for graduation, she was attending her daughter's funeral. Her eldest child had been killed in a car accident. Cynthia fell into a deep depression. She was able to move on only with the help of her faith, family and friends.
"You have to surround yourself with people who will motivate you and lift you up," she said. "The environment you create for yourself is important."
She was inspired to write the book by her mentor Rita, who'd watched her long journey. She dedicated it to her grandparents, Ester and Paul Wilson; to her late daughter, Latasha Nicole Richardson (1983-2008); and to Rita, "who taught me to trust God and to have courage in the midst of trials."
"Divine Destiny: Ordered Steps" is available in the Prisma Health Tuomey Hospital gift shop, the Wishing Well.
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