By Christine N. Gordon
Educational Counselor, Writer, Youth Advocate
Alumna of CSU San Bernardino
On April 7, 2009, instead of attending the first class of CSU San Bernardino’s counseling and guidance program, I was in ICU recovering from cancer surgery. The doctors had removed the salivary gland cancer, the surrounding tissues, part of my tongue, my right tonsil, the gums along my lower right molars, thirty lymph nodes, and my submandibular salivary gland. Along with the usual IV, I had a nose tube, and a drain next to the-bride-of-Frankenstein-looking staples that surrounded more than half my neck. And I was lucky. The cancer had not spread. I could talk, smile, swallow, and breathe. And I could go to school.
It’s 8:45 in the morning, Saturday, June 16, 2012 and I wipe away tears as my daughter Andrea James enters Coussoulis Arena with the other graduates. I can’t help but think how long this journey has been for her and for our family. She is receiving her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice after 9 consecutive years as a part time student. In three short hours, we will switch places; she will take her seat in the stands while I line up for my own graduation.
I studied from home and, two weeks later, attended class. I wore a scarf to cover the 7-inch pink scar that ran from under my chin up to behind my ear. Walking from the parking lot to class left me breathless and I couldn’t yet eat solid food. Little by little, I grew stronger and I stayed in school.
The cancer surgery turned out to be just one of our obstacles. My husband lost his construction business in the economic meltdown and our cars and home went with it. Fortunately, my husband found work again and, with the help of financial aid, we sent our two youngest daughters to CSU’s as well. Four of us at CSU!
We take a couple of quick photos together. I want us both to wear cap and gown, but I have not put mine on yet and am running out of time to check in. I kiss my beautiful firstborn daughter and run to greet friends with whom I’ve spent the last three years.
In spite of the difficulties of the last few years, when I look back, what I feel most is gratitude. I am looking for work and am hopeful that something will open up for me. Our second grandchild is due in July and we have two more graduations to plan. Theresa will graduate next spring with her bachelor’s in business with an emphasis in hospitality from CSU Monterey Bay and our youngest, Jennifer, will graduate in 2015 with a bachelor’s in kinesiology from Sacramento State.
I take my seat with the other graduates and look up into the stands at the sea of waving arms. At last, I see my husband, Rob, and my mother, Judith. But where is Andrea? I text Rob. “Where is she?” He shrugs. CSU San Bernardino’s University President, Dr. Karnig, approaches the podium and I worry she will miss it. But then I look up and I see her wave. I glance at my phone. She’s sent me a text.
“I’m right here.”
* * *
As Andrea prepared to graduate this last week, her husband Mark, a brain tumor survivor, was told that he has a new brain lesion. This is not the news they were hoping for, but Christine says she knows that Andrea and Mark will face this like they have faced everything—with determination and courage.
Gordon writes a blog called Taming the College Beast: How to Sidestep the Obstacles and Succeed Your First Year and Beyond.