For years I had wanted to return to school to pursue my master’s degree. I wasn’t sure for which subject exactly, but I knew it had to do with education. I thought of working with special needs children but that required another bachelor’s degree before moving on. My BA in Humanities wasn’t going to work for grad school special needs. So I pursued other ideas. As a working, single mom, I needed to be present as a parent. I didn’t want to be one of those people whose child comes home from school then eats dinner alone because mom has gone from work to night school. I’m not saying that is wrong, it was just not the right path for me. After losing my best friend and others at the World Trade Center I never take for granted that I will see someone the next day, or even later that day. This is something that has worked against me mentally at times, I must admit.
As time wore on it started to seem that returning to school was ridiculous and a waste of money, in my 40s, and even more so once I hit 50, . My friend, Karen, stopped her work as a CPA, got student loans, and went to law school for tax law. At the time I worried greatly for her, taking on debt so late in life. And then it happened.
In March 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had the mastectomy, had the mediport put in my jugular, did the chemo (thankfully didn’t need radiation), and everything else that goes with it. Of course, I thought about death. I thought about life. I realized that where I was working at the time I was surrounded by women in their 70s who were still working. Not because they wanted to get out of the house but because they relied on the income. Social Security is not enough. I also realized that these women are 15-20 years older than myself. If I’m going to still be working at that point, I don’t want it to be for some low-paying job that has become routine to me. I want to do something I will enjoy and that will benefit others. I want to do something that will offer financial stability. I realized grad school was only 3 years and why wasn’t I going back? I spoke to a couple of people and as luck would have it, my cancer support group leader was an Instructional Designer. I had no idea what that was, but I questioned her and was excited about what she did. I think I may have been a little too excited, she had that “Single White Female” scared face for a few minutes. But once she realized I wasn’t out to take over her identity, only to settle on a program for grad school, all was well. I researched online grad schools for ID. I got a list and it had Boise as the number one choice and UMass Boston as number three. But for some reason the moment I saw UMass Boston I felt compelled to apply there. I did not apply anywhere else, this was my first choice. I was so excited to get in. Here I am now, finishing up my first semester – stressing over my group and individual projects and papers but still here, still surviving. I even have an upcoming surgery on May 9th, my final surgery of this cancer escapade (I hope) yet my focus is on school. I’m still excited. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the reading but now I’m looking at people on TV, the people I see in stores, etc., differently. Because what I thought was just a decision to return to school turned out to be a type of learning – experiential learning. According to this learning theory, I encountered a trauma that made me think and re-assess my place in the world. Once that reassessment was done, and I had my new viewpoint, I proceeded to act upon it by applying to UMass Boston and enroll. It reminds me of the cliché that my grandmother used to say all the time “You learn something new everyday” But I think the addendum to that should be “even when you don’t realize that it’s learning”. Sometimes the trauma you encounter is your cocoon and when you reassess and take action, you come out as a beautiful butterfly.