TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Wharton High School’s nursing teacher is no longer in the classroom due to a cancer diagnosis, but that isn’t stopping her from teaching and inspiring her students.

Patricia Goetz, RN, has been teaching at Wharton High School for 13 years. Before entering the classroom, she helped save lives in local hospitals.

“When I walked into a hospital in my early 20s, there were all these problems and I could put all of my problems aside and just focus on these patients and help them,” Goetz said.

Goetz has helped thousands in the Tampa Bay area. She moved here as a young teenager.

“I didn’t have anyone and times were hard,” Goetz said. “There was a time when I didn’t know how I was going to pay my rent at 18. I sat out in the parking lot of a topless bar, thinking about going in, and I think what would have happened to that girl if she had made that decision and I’m so proud of that girl who didn’t make that decision.”

Instead, she went to school and became a nurse, a wife and a mother. After taking time away from work to be a mom, a new opportunity came along.

“Wharton invited me to the school to close out the CNA program, but then I just fell madly and passionately in love with these students,” she said.

Her students feel the same way about her.

“I fell in love with her as soon as I walked in the door,” Abbey Marshall said.

Marshall is a senior at WHS. She has been a student of Goetz for four years and spent last school year as her teacher’s assistant.

“If I’m having a bad day, I come to Mrs. Goetz’s room,” Marshall said. “There is just no one else like her.”

Senior Jordyn Thomas feels the same way.

“She’s probably the most compassionate person I’ve ever met,” Thomas said.

Thomas and Marshall are two of Goetz’s 20 students this year. Goetz prepares these students for their CNA licenses by graduation.

However, things changed in February 2020 when Goetz was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“We thought, ‘OK, good we’re done because we caught it Stage 2,'” Goetz recalled. “I finished six sessions of chemo but then it came back. May 2021, I was facing cancer again.”

Local doctors had to bring out the big guns and Goetz underwent the most aggressive chemotherapy. The entire time, Goetz never left her students’ sides.

“I could teach from home. Many times they saw me wrapped up in a COVID chair,” she said.

“It was very heartbreaking, but I also had hope and I know that she’s strong,” Marshall said.

Treatments worked and the cancer was gone, until two months ago. Doctors told Goetz her cancer was back and the worst it has been, which is Stage 4.

“I was just heartbroken because I had just got back to my students,” Goetz said.

She found out she couldn’t teach anymore.

“It’s been my therapy to teach them. I’ve reached a place now where my doctors say I’m not able to do it and I feel my body not being able to do it,” Goetz said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Her students kept her in good spirits and threw her a surprise party on her last day.

Mrs. Goetz’s students surprise her with a party on her last day of teaching

“We woke up very early and just wanted to have a day of fun, so that’s what we did,” Thomas said. “One goes through it, we all go through it.”

“For two hours we danced, we held hands because we don’t know what the future is going to be,” Goetz said. “No matter how hard life gets you can still hold hands dance and love each other.”

Although she isn’t in the classroom anymore, her presence is still felt.

“It’s like she’s here right now, you can feel her in this room,” Thomas said.

“With her confidence and passion, it makes me know that if I’m in a dark time, I can be just like her,” Marshall added.

Goetz is an inspiration to all of her students. But for Goetz, she says her students inspire her.

“It’s really not me, it’s them,” Goetz said. “It’s safe to say a lot of students have touched me, a lot have inspired me. I could easily let all of this drag me down, but I can’t. What good will that do? How am I serving my community? How am I serving those students?”

Right now, Goetz is undergoing testing to see if she qualifies for a medical trial that is testing new treatments for ovarian cancer.

“It’s scary, but it’s my best hope and I can be of assistance,” Goetz said. “Even in this place, I can still help because we’ll know if it works or doesn’t work.”

Doctors told Goetz that the trial is her best chance of survival. If she does not get into the trial, she will undergo normal chemotherapy treatments and take it day by day.

Through all of this, Goetz is hopeful and prayerful. She says the books of Proverbs and the Book of Joy keep her pushing, along with her family and students.

Students at WHS have organized a GoFundMe to help Goetz with her medical bills.