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Cancer patient vows to finish college

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nothing can keep Reggie Cain from going to class.

Not his long hours at The Redemption House, the shelter he recently opened to support recovering addicts. Not his time split between his six children and grandchildren. Not even chemotherapy treatments.

Cain, 61, will graduate from West Virginia State University in December with a bachelor's degree in health sciences. He decided to go back to school in 2009, and since then, he has earned three associate degrees specializing in behavioral health and counseling in addition to the B.S. he'll receive next month.

He was diagnosed with stomach cancer last year, but has not let it get in the way of his goals. Cain has made the Dean's List every semester.

"I've been busy," Cain said. "A lot of people tell me that they're inspired just by seeing me in class everyday. They don't understand how I do it. I give God all the glory."

Cain, of Saint Albans, had a vision to create transitional housing for local men who have struggled with drug or alcohol addiction and needed help getting back on their feet. He started furnishing houses in Rand and Dunbar, offering not only a warm place to sleep and eat -- but also transportation to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and job interviews.

He couldn't do the job wholly, though, without a degree.

"I saw people suffering. They needed help getting their lives together. I felt like it was my calling to help them, but I had to go back to school to do it right," Cain said. "It is so rewarding to watch a person who has no hope get a gleam in their eye when hope does come alive in them. It's like they get to relive life allover again. Kind of like me -- I got a second chance at life. I feel better now than I did at 35, even with the cancer."

This isn't Cain's first attempt at college. After high school, he attended Compton Junior College in California on a football scholarship. But, he quit after his first semester upon finding out his girlfriend was pregnant with his son.

"To be honest, I was a jock back in '69. I was only thinking about playing sports, and I really abused the opportunities there for me," he said. "Most people don't get a second chance, and I'm blessed to have one."

Cain is part of a growing trend of nontraditional students in West Virginia. Enrollment of students in the state over the age of 25 has increased by more than 12 percent since 2008, according to the Higher Education Policy Commission.

Last year, more than 23,000 of West Virginia's students were 25 and older. Adult learners make up more than half of enrollment in the state's two-year colleges and nearly 20 percent of four-year institutions.

But in Cain's case, he wasn't doing it for himself. His youngest daughter, Meredith, will graduate with honors from South Charleston High School this year, and as he took her to visit prospective universities, he realized he needed to heed his own advice.

"I've just been truly blessed by her. She's very intelligent, and I knew that for me to be able to make sure that she gets the quality of education that she wanted, I needed to reeducate myself," he said. "It was a combination of things that made me want to go back."

Cain said he worried only slightly about catching up with his younger generation classmates.

"I knew I would need to brace myself with the technology. I took a few computer classes to prepare. Even though it was difficult, I had a lot of support from my classmates and teachers," he said. "I knew in my heart this was another stepping stone so that I could help people in the future. But I found out that I was already helping people just by going to class everyday at my age wearing a chemo pump."

Cain plans to expand his Redemption House project upon graduation and provide even more people a place to live in a place "where comfortable sobriety without relapse is the norm instead of the exception."

"It's really disturbing to me when I hear so many people say, 'I wish I would've done this.' Well, what's stopping you from doing it? It's not over 'till it's over," he said.

For more information about The Redemption House, call 304-437-3104 or email cainreginald46@yahoo.com.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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