Thoughts of what was to come swam through Amy (Lautt, g’01) Ongstad’s mind. Going through cancer treatment inside the Bismarck (N.D.) Cancer Center, she’d pause, reflect and simply ask why.
A mother of four kids, Ongstad was within her first year of Tabor College’s Master of Education in Neuroscience & Trauma program. She didn’t want to stop her graduate classes, but she also knew she wanted to be there for her kids amidst her cancer diagnosis.
The Lord, as He had and continues to do, provided a path.
A passion for kids led Ongstad to elementary education as her major at Tabor. After receiving her diploma in May 2001, she spent a year on staff at Mountain View Community Church in Fresno, Calif. She later moved home to Harvey, N.D., meeting her husband, Sam, and running a farm together.
While she was first a stay-at-home mom, Ongstad began homeschooling her two oldest sons in 2014. When their youngest child was born in 2019, the children began attending public school, and Ongstad got her first taste of working as a paraprofessional in special education. She began as a substitute but later earned a part-time role.
“I felt limited in that I couldn’t make connections with kids,” she said. “There wasn’t much consistency, but I also knew I didn’t want to work full time.”
That opened the door to more training, and Ongstad came across a Facebook advertisement for Tabor’s newest master’s program.
Finishing her first term of the M.Ed. program, Ongstad went in for an annual checkup with her doctor. That checkup led to her startling diagnosis of breast cancer.
“It felt like some kind of cruel joke,” she said. “I had just started this dream program, and I loved it. I didn’t know how I was going to do a master’s program, be a mom of four children, and have cancer.”
Corresponding with Dr. David Stevens, M.Ed. program director, a plan was put in place for her to continue the program.
It wasn’t without hiccups, however. From surgeries to treatments, her professor and classmates even experienced Ongstad’s participation in a class Zoom call as she sat in the back of an ambulance amidst cancer, a kidney stone and a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Learning how to handle trauma became a powerful coping mechanism amidst her diagnosis.
“God used this master’s program to help me through my own trauma,” said Ongstad, now in remission. “I was living it out in daily life.”
With her kids ranging from the ages of 3 to 13, questions about their mother’s future were understandable. In those situations and countless others, the Lord provided. Whether it was their church, family, or her M.Ed. cohort, “Jehovah Jireh” was there.
“I’m not going to lie, there were periods of grief and mourning, times when we all experienced her pain alongside her, times when we were scared that we would never see Amy finish the M.Ed.,” Stevens said. “There were times I was afraid I would not hear her voice again. And it was during those times that Amy would shock me, and broaden my own views of human potential, positivity and faith.”
Ongstad has begun work toward a paraprofessional position with CREA—Central Regional Education Association, serving 57 school districts in central North Dakota.
Her determination has left an indelible mark on the opening cohort of Tabor’s newest master’s program.
“When she told me she was in remission, she ended her note with a sentence full of truth,” Stevens said. “’ Whatever experiences this new chapter of your career brings, know that you will never be the same. You have been touched by the transforming power of God, whose ways and timing are perfect.’”