A near fatal car crash, cervical cancer, poverty- these are the ordeals three Woodland Community College students overcame to succeed in college.
Maria Arellano, age 52, nearly lost her life in an October 1997 auto accident. Silvia Aceves, age 32, immigrated from Mexico nine years ago hoping to break free from the chains of poverty. Juanita Barron, a 27 year old, faced a world of uncertainty when diagnosed with precancerous cells of the cervix last spring.
Yet each woman has beat the odds, and is currently enrolled full time in college, working to pursue their educational goals and planning to transfer to four year universities.
Maria Arellano, 40 years old at the time, lost 30% control of her body in her accident on County Road 31 between Winters and Davis. Her left thighbone and right ankle were broken and her pelvis was fractured. In addition to receiving many cuts, Maria’s left arm was injured so severely that some of her bones have never been found.
Maria spent eight days in the ICU of the UC Davis Trauma Center and during the first 72 hours after the accident, the doctors were not sure if Maria would survive. Not only did Maria’s liver shut off, but she developed jaundice, and there were questions of amputation to her left arm.
Eight weeks after the accident, Maria was transferred to a convalescent hospital for recovery, where she stayed for approximately nine weeks. “I have always been very independent,” explained Maria. She now had to re-learn how to walk, to feed herself, to cut food, to dress with one hand, like buttoning shirts and pulling zippers and tying her own shoes, and Maria even had to learn how to push her own wheelchair with one hand.
Maria had been told that she would not be able to walk in less than two years, but she managed to in an astonishing six months. Maria now has metal in her left leg and left arm, as well as multiple screws in her ankles, arm, and legs. Eighty-four hours of surgery and 1 and a half million dollars of medical bills later, Maria has managed to become incredibly self-sufficient.
Maria has been attending WCC for the last nine semesters working towards an Associates Degree in Business Assistance and Administration and plans to transfer to Sacramento State. Maria said that her transition to WCC was very difficult at first, especially with her physical difficulties. “What’s really difficult is [having] to type assignments with only one hand.”
Despite the hurdles, Maria has taken extra effort to succeed by using the Tutoring Center, the Disabled Students Program & Services and the EOP&S office on campus, as well as seeing her instructors in their office hours. Maria said she wanted to be the first in her family to graduate from college; in fact, she graduated last May. “I have to show my kids so they can follow my steps; if I can do it they can do it.”
Silvia Aceves immigrated to the United States from Mexico nine years ago, seeking a better education and “hoping to improve life.” Silvia found a job in a warehouse forty miles from her Arbuckle home and worked between 50 and 60 hours a week, including weekends; unfortunately, only with working overtime did she earn enough to pay for bills, transportation and a babysitter.
With a five- and three-year old at the time, the single mother did not speak English and faced language and culture barriers, as well as financial hardship. Four years later, Silvia enrolled in Woodland Community College to begin English as s Second Language (ESL) courses.
Along with learning English, Silvia Aceves took math and early childhood education classes for two years at Woodland Community College. She eventually sought out a school counselor who directed her to the many resources on campus, including the Financial Aid office and the Extended Opportunity Program and Services.
She decided to continue her education while she supported her family, and even earned a Medical Assistant Diploma through Western Career College. Silvia wanted to pursue her interest in the health field and returned to WCC to receive an Associates Degree in Science in December 2005.
Juanita Barron, a single mother of a five year old, was diagnosed last May with pre-cancerous cells of the cervix. At first, Juanita says, it really took a toll on her, and while she waited four months for the final test-results determining if the cells were indeed cancerous, she found herself ultimately worrying about her daughter’s future.
“If something happens to me, what’s going to happen to her?” Juanita wondered. She said she researched possible future treatments, prayed every day and tried to emphasize to her family that the diagnosis had been pre-cancerous, not fully developed cancer.
Finally the test results were in: Juanita had had a major brush with fate and came away in the clear. “It’s more empowering,” exclaimed Juanita. “I went through this and I’m alive, well and I have no reason to be unhappy, no reason.”
Juanita said, “The hardest thing about this experience was trying to keep positive, to find hope.” Juanita mentioned that she now has a better view on life, prioritizing and focusing on what’s important- her family, daughter, and school. She is planning to get a degree in Nursing and Psychology and wants to transfer to San Jose State next year.
Juanita Barron, Maria Arellano and Silvia Aceves are inspirations to anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed or discouraged, and offer these words of wisdom from their experiences: “Count your blessings and thank God that you have another day to live.”
Silvia’s advises, “No matter what obstacles you may face, you can overcome them if you work very hard.” Juanita stated that the little things do not compare or matter, once you realize you could have your life taken away. “We let things get to us that shouldn’t. The rest doesn’t even matter”