It was the summer of 2015; I had just graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and was headed to graduate school in the fall to pursue my Master’s Degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. I felt like I had so much to look forward to with my entire life ahead of me. It is strange how one’s life could go from bright and sunny to a natural disaster in a matter of weeks. Not long after graduation I found myself in my doctor’s office, fiddling my fingers, waiting for her to come back with the results. « A tumor », she said. Earlier that month, I had gone in for a routine annual woman’s wellness exam which included a breast examination. A lump was felt in my left breast which was confirmed by a mammogram that it was, in fact, a tumor. Was it benign or malignant? Could this be breast cancer? What stage? How many rounds of chemotherapy will I have to endure? A million questions raced through my mind, drowning out what my doctor was saying to me. I went home that day feeling shattered and unsure of my meticulously planned future. The next day was my sister’s high school graduation. She was the valedictorian of her class which made the day even more joyous. I kept the results of my doctor’s visit from my family, not wanting to take away from the special day.
Throughout the next several weeks, I continued to keep my diagnosis a secret from my family and friends, making routine visits to the doctor, scheduling a biopsy, and eventually scheduling a date for surgery to remove the tumor. I calculated the costs of anesthesia, operating room fees, surgeon fees and traveling expenses. Without health insurance, the only option I found myself with was to take out a loan to cover the medical expenses. If I told my parents of the surgery, they surely would have offered financial help but I didn’t want to burden them after the years of sacrifice they made for me.
My parents are the two hardest working people I know. They came to the United States in 1988 after fleeing from the first intifada in the West Bank, Palestine. They left the only life they knew behind to start a better one, not only for them, but for their four daughters. They both pursued higher education and made sure to instill the importance and value of pursuing an education and gaining knowledge. While they might have been willing to offer assistance, I knew this was something I needed to endure on my own. After a successful surgery to remove the benign tumor, I finally told my family. They offered to provide whatever assistance I may have needed, but I only asked for moral support. I made the biggest sacrifice of my life by choosing to postpone my admittance into my Master’s program in order to work full time to pay off my medical bills.
For the next year and a half, I worked to pay off my medical debt while also working in two psychology laboratories to expand knowledge of research methods and skills to hopefully put to use in graduate school. At times I felt like I was drowning; reaching for the surface only to be pulled back under, however, I persevered. There were more times than I’d like to admit when I wanted to give up, yet I worked hard every day and continuously reminded myself that not even a cancer scare could stop me from attaining my goals.
Eventually, I reapplied to graduate school and got accepted into a tier one university with a reputable I/O Psychology program. I was met with feelings of joy and despair. I was thrilled that I was back on track with my original plan of pursuing higher education to further my career yet I was terrified that I had almost no money saved up due to paying off my medical bills while also paying my living expenses.
If I was awarded this scholarship, it would give me the ability to focus more on my studies rather than stressing over how I will pay for my tuition. My good standing in my undergraduate studies and determination throughout the past two years is evidence of success in my future graduate studies. While my life during the past few years hasn’t gone exactly according to my plan, I am thankful that I am alive and well. I am forever grateful that I was given a second chance at life, and I believe this scholarship can give me a second chance in pursuing my lifelong dream of obtaining a graduate degree.
Sandra is one of Asherah Foundation’s outstanding applicants of 2017’s Second Chance Scholarship for women around the globe. Despite fighting with a tumor, she did not give up on her dreams, facing all of her challenges with strength.
*For privacy purposes, the real name has been changed.