The struggles of going to college while caring for a dying parent

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Students face many challenges. I did not expect to be confronted with the death of my mother.

My mother was always my number one supporter and so proud that I was in college. She cooked for me whenever I was studying or doing my homework. She became enthusiastic when I shared my experiences in college and what I was learning in my classes. It was our daily conversation during breakfast.

As I finished my spring semester in 2021, I observed that my 69-year-old mother was not business as usual; she was losing energy and was not as motivated in her daily activities. She stopped cooking and shopping and stayed in bed longer.

On the morning of June 25, my mother asked me to take her to the emergency room because she was not feeling well.

Without imagining how sick she really was, we waited for her blood tests, ultrasounds and CT scan results, assuming we would go home and take whatever medications the doctor gave her.

While waiting for the doctor to call, she and I were making plans for my graduation—she even mentioned that she wanted to celebrate with mariachi music. But that day, our plans changed. The doctor said my mom was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer.

That night, she told me that she didn’t want this situation to change my life plans, especially my school goals.

We had no idea how deadly pancreatic cancer can be, how quickly symptoms begin to appear, or how quickly it spreads. As time passed quickly and my mother’s cancer progressed, my brothers and I struggled to know what to do. We wanted to do everything to help him live, but circumstances worked against us.

We couldn’t imagine a life without my mother; processing the idea of ​​losing her had been one of our biggest challenges. I knew continuing with college would also be a challenge.

Since transferring from El Camino College to California State University, Dominguez Hills, my education has been covered by government financial aid.

As the summer of 2021 began, my mom and I were talking about how close I was to graduating – one more year – and how happy we were that my classes were financially covered. My goal was to graduate in the spring of 2022, which meant taking summer classes in 2021 and keeping my GPA above 2.0 for financial aid.

Although I didn’t want to give up my dream of a career as a journalist, my mother needed my support and help. For me, helping her during these times was a way of thanking her for the support she has given me all her life.

Making the decision to drop out of my summer courses was very difficult, but I no longer had a choice. Luckily, I was in time to drop them with a “W” (withdrawal) meaning I would be classed as a continuing student for the next semester with no enrollment records.

At first, I hoped I could manage the time needed to take care of my mother and attend my online classes. The truth is, being a dying person’s caregiver means devoting all of your time to it, 24/7.

A few days after dropping out of summer school, I received an email from the financial aid office asking me to repay $1,045 for summer tuition. At the moment, I didn’t even have a job.

I felt frustrated, sad and with a debt that I couldn’t pay. Not only was I losing my mother, but maybe I was losing the chance to get a degree.

During a visit to the ER that summer, the doctor determined that my mother’s cancer was stage 4 since it had spread to her lungs. The best option for her was to stop treatment and choose hospice, which provides comfort care for terminally ill people.

For the next four weeks, my mother was at home, watched over by doctors and nurses, but I also took care of her day and night and acted as her Spanish-to-English translator for all the medical staff.

I called student financial services at the college and explained what was going on — that my mom was dying, that I didn’t have a job. The person who answered my call understood and asked me to send him by email a letter from my old job proving that I no longer worked there, and a letter from the doctor proving that my mother was in hospice at home. .

I sent both letters immediately to the office. I had to pay my tuition out of pocket at that time, but two months later the financial aid office refunded me the money. I am grateful for this support.

As I was between emotional pain and physical fatigue, I saw how my mother was losing her life. I could fix the summer school problem, but I couldn’t do anything to cure his cancer.

A few days later, I started receiving emails telling me that my fall semester was about to start.

One morning, while I was thinking about what to do for this semester, between confusion and heartache, my mother took my hand while I gave her a protein shake. With a peaceful face and a beautiful smile, she told me everything was going to be fine.

On the morning of August 19, 2021, at 4:45 a.m., my mother died while I was sleeping next to her. A few minutes before, I told her that I was no longer afraid of what would happen to me, that she could leave when she was ready.

Four days later, on August 23, I started a new semester that would bring me closer to my career. In May 2022, I was unable to see my mother at my graduation ceremony, but I believe she was able to see me. That day, I understood that my mother was right, everything was going to be fine.

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Anais Garcia is a graduate of Cal State Dominguez Hills and a member of the California Student Journalism Corps at EdSource.

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