Nursing student was inspired by late mother's faith

Nursing student Megan Mason, set to graduate from GCU in December, was a caregiver as her mother battled cancer. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

Editor's note: National Nurses Week began Friday, May 6, and runs through Thursday, May 12. In honor of the dedication shown daily by so many wonderful nurses who are GCU alumni, here's a touching story about a student who plans to join their ranks soon.

By Cassandra Coria
GCU News Bureau

“I think everyone should live like a sloth,” Megan Mason said joyfully. 

Her roommate had given her a sloth book during a life-changing journey, describing the speed in which sloths live their lives.  

Megan Mason (right) learned a lot from her mother, Nikki Brown -- in particular, what it means to have a relationship with God.

“Live more like a sloth. It made me slow down more than I want to admit because our society moves so fast,” she says.  

Mason’s progress at Grand Canyon University has hardly been sloth-like. She is on track to graduate from the nursing program in December.

But she has endured a hard lesson in patience and perseverance the last three years while her mother, Nikki Brown, battled stage 3C ovarian cancer, meaning cancerous cells had spread from her ovaries to nearby tissues. 

Through all the suffering, however, Nikki delivered a far more important lesson – one based on faith.

“When my mom was in hospice care, I asked her, ‘What do you want me to tell other people?’” 

Nikki’s response, delivered with such intent: “I want people to know it is a relationship with God, not a religion.”

Mason started in the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions program on the main campus last fall. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

A journey based on faith

Mason and her family struggled with her mom's cancer just like any family would, but Nikki's relationship with God turned the journey into an inspirational tale.  

“I feel like a lot of us put Him in a box,” Mason said. “In middle school, we would always list our priorities – number one, God; number two, family. I always put God as number one, but I realized God is in everything. When you mature into your faith, He starts to bleed into every area of your life.” 

Megan's fascination with the human body led her to nursing, but it crushed her when she was an alternate at first -- she desperately wanted to have some good news for her mother, who was in hospice.

Like most GCU students, she cooks her own food in her apartment and grabs an energy drink whenever she can. She wants to become a nurse partly because she always has been interested in the human body.  

“It is the only thing made after the image of God,” she says. 

With her love for science and human creation, her next steps were to get into GCU’s nursing program. But after applying, she was placed as an alternate. 

“It crushed my world,” she said. “Mother was already placed in hospice care, and I was trying to bring home some good news.” 

Being an alternate meant there was not a spot for her in the traditional nursing program on the main campus.

Her options were to sit out a semester and wait to reapply, apply to another nursing program, change majors or see if she would qualify for GCU’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in Sun City or Tucson. Students in the 16-month program, designed for students who already have earned a bachelor’s degree in another field or have prior college credits, complete their classroom instruction online then head to ABSN sites for lab and immersive simulation experiences.

“I prayed about it,” she said. “We don’t always know what’s best for us – we might think we do. I was happy it wasn’t my choice. This was completely in God’s hands.” 

By the grace of God, Megan was accepted to continue the nursing program beginning in the fall of 2021 on the main campus.  

Mason's faith is a major part of her life. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

Their bond was unbreakable

Megan’s relationship with her mother was special.

“Everyone always called me her mini me,” Megan says with the slightest eye roll.

Megan considers herself a "carbon copy" of her mom.

But she admits, “I am a carbon copy of her.” 

When Megan was born, Nikki looked at her daughter and said, “This is going to be fun.”  

The classic mother-daughter bond was unbreakable. 

“My mom would always say, “We’re just best friends.” 

Megan would respond, “OK, but you’re my mom, too.” 

“OK, I’ll be more like a mom. Go do the dishes,” Nikki would reply but then routinely changed her mind and did them herself.

After 19 years of having her mother take care of her, the roles were reversed. In 2021, Megan and her stepfather, Terrell Brown, were Nikki’s fulltime caregivers.  

“I think a lot of people don’t realize how bad things were,” she said. “I’d come to school and they’d say, ‘We’re doing bed positioning for in-bed patients who can’t move.’ I had just been doing it that morning for my mom, who can’t move and eat.” 

The other students were quick to notice how skilled Megan was. They’d say, “Dang, Megan, you’re really good.” 

“But it was something I just had to do for her every day,” Mason said with a shrug.  

Sometimes she would have to step out of class because the things she was learning or doing were a constant reminder of her mother’s suffering.  

“There was no reason for this to happen to her. Nothing runs in our family. She was a perfectly healthy mother.” 

However, she had to remind herself, “God has a purpose, and everything is going to work out the way it is.” 

Mason was amazed by her mother's sunny outlook as the cancer progressed. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

Letting go and letting God

As the cancer progressed, Megan’s family discovered her body was plasma resistant. This means the medicine she would take would help for a while, but over time her body became immune to the medicine.   

A biblical passage from Psalm 23 that her mother had shared with her sparked a realization through this journey:  

Toward the end of her cancer battle, Nikki told Megan, “I just want to fall asleep and stay asleep.” 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my heads with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

“You feel it and then you release it to God because those things are not coming from Him,” Mason said. “That was us not allowing the enemy to sit at the table.” 

Nikki needed to wear compression socks on her legs because of excessive swelling. With the fluid in her body, it moved to her chest. She was afraid to feel pain and feared she would suffocate.  

“Something that was laid on my heart to tell her was that God had allowed her to suffer for two years, but I really felt God had reason in all that suffering,” Mason said. “When she passed, there would be no reason to feel that pain. It wouldn’t have any purpose.”

Nikki would say again and again, “I just want to fall asleep and stay asleep.” 

“And that’s what happened,” Mason said of her mother's passing on Sept. 29, 2021. “Throughout her journey, I would see her grow and trust in God. The grips she had to loosen – I saw her surrender her entire being to God. 

“One of the most life-changing things my mom has taught me is to live heaven-focused and not earth-focused. When I live and I am not focused on things of this world, like the nursing program. Although it is daunting, it becomes so much smaller.

“If we have an earthly perspective, death seems like the end of it. When I live a life focused on heaven, it is simply an outlet I have to glorify God. The only thing that truly matters here is building your relationship with God and sharing His love with others. 

“Toward the end of her life, I told her I have a lot to be thankful for because she introduced me to God. It’s hard not having her here, but I know she is more alive than she has ever been.” 


Related content:

GCU Magazine: GCU helps stem teaching, nursing shortages

GCU press release: GCU's accelerated bachelor's degree program in Tucson helping to fill nursing pipeline

GCU Today: GCU earns re-accreditation for all nursing programs


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(Moses addressed Israel, reminding them of God's deliverance of them from Egypt, and His commands given to them:) "You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out (from bondage and delivered you.). The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear." (Deuteronomy 7:19)

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