Journey to Joy

Dr. Regina Allen-Sharpe says she’s in the “dream development” business.

“Everyone comes to college with a dream,” she says. “I like to think I play some small part in making that dream come to fruition.”

Named assistant vice president of Student Affairs in January, Dr. Allen-Sharpe has served Wilmington University for 17 years, as a director of Career Services, then senior director of Career Services and Student Life. She’s also an assistant professor in the College of Business, for which she’s taught myriad courses for 11 years. As AVP, she oversees the Career Services and Student Life departments and is responsible for polices, procedures and the Student Handbook. She’s excited about collaborative projects with fellow avps who are creating services and programs that affect all areas of the University.

The passion she feels for work is the same passion she feels for life. The students she’s served have inspired joy, contentment and gratitude.

About 10 years ago, Dr. Allen-Sharpe was a career counselor for a student who had just started her program.  They lost touch but reconnected at a Career Fair, where Dr. Allen-Sharpe learned that the student had fallen on hard times. The night before the Career Fair, in fact, the student planned on taking her own life.  

But she thought about the fair and something stopped her. She sought out Dr. Allen-Sharpe, telling her that WilmU had literally saved her life. The career fair, she thought, might offer her a second chance at life.

“At first I cried because you think you’re just putting on an event, but really, you might be changing someone’s life,” says Dr. Allen-Sharpe, adding that she offered the student resources and followed-up on her progress. Today, that student is thriving.

Dr. Allen-Sharpe has mastered empathy, not just because she’s learned to think beyond herself and understand other perspectives, but because life confronted her with challenges she fought to overcome.

In 2007, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent a colectomy to remove nearby lymph nodes. Four years later, she received the crushing diagnosis of breast cancer and endured a bilateral mastectomy — and eight surgeries in seven months.

“Breast cancer and the mastectomy were life-altering,” says Dr. Allen-Sharpe. “There was no family history of breast cancer, and I found myself asking, ‘what have I done?'” 

According to the National Cancer Institute, that was a normal reaction. Cancer patients often feel guilty for upsetting the people they love, or they blame themselves for lifestyle choices they think led to cancer. 

After a period of introspection, Dr. Allen-Sharpe had an epiphany. “First I thought, why me?” she says. “Then I thought, why not me?”

It was either fight or succumb. “So I remembered who I was and decided to be strong,” she says. “Nothing in my soul was telling me it was the end. I didn’t care what the doctors said. I just knew I still had things to do.”

She had many things to do. Thanks to loving support from her husband, Oscar, her mother, who moved in with them for months, and WilmU colleagues, she won the battle and has been cancer-free for more than six years. She also discovered yoga at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center at Christiana Hospital, which affected her life profoundly.

“The first time I got on a yoga mat after breast cancer, Jesus showed up,” she says. “And He’s never left.”

Dr. Allen-Sharpe is now a certified yoga instructor who teaches from a spiritual perspective. She’s also a certified Ayurvedic yoga specialist. Ayurveda is an ancient science that helps practitioners take action to bring their bodies and minds back into balance.

And she counsels cancer patients, telling them to listen to their inner voices. 

Listening, after all, is what she does best. She listens to students. She listens to colleagues. She listens to people who face terrifying diagnoses. And she listens to herself. That internal voice hasn’t let her down yet. 

Through hardship and pain she found joy, which she attributes to the Highest Power. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” says Dr. Allen-Sharpe. “Everything has brought me to this moment. And even on bad days, things are good.” WU     

 

— Maria Hess