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The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance is pleased to announce the winner of the Fall 2018 Scholarship, Darwin Arias.
Darwin is set to begin his undergraduate career at Columbia University in the fall, with an interest in studying biology, neuroscience, or biochemistry. Throughout his academic career, Darwin has challenged himself to fill his schedule with difficult advanced placement courses and numerous extracurriculars to prepare for college and forge a path to achieve a medical career.
Darwin’s mother Judith immigrated to the United States from Puebla, Mexico, when she was 19 in the hopes of a better life. She balanced many part-time jobs in an effort to help support her family in her home country before meeting his father, and eventually starting their own family. The family still faced difficulties, as his parents worked long hours while trying to balance a healthy home life. When his brother was born with serious birth defects, his mother still somehow managed to balance providing her brother special care on top of work and taking care of the household.
Though life wasn’t perfect and the family had their ups and downs, Darwin was still able to apply himself in his advanced classes and throw himself into extracurriculars. But seemingly out of nowhere, the life the family knew seemed to come crashing down.
A Sudden Cancer Diagnosis
“On a mild afternoon in September, my mother’s life was obstructed by an unforeseen malignant tumor found in her right breast by her doctor,” Darwin recalled. “We were stunned. Our family had no history of cancer, and she was just 36.”
The family’s routine was turned upside down as years of oncologists visits filled their days. As his mother’s breast cancer spread, the family traveled between the hospital and specialists’ appointments often. For two years, his mother was able to be treated with chemotherapy pills, but unfortunately her condition continued to worsen.
As Darwin watched her lose her strength and enthusiasm for life, he stepped up to help her continue fighting and enjoy whatever time she had left. Darwin painted her nails, helped her buy her first wig so she could feel more confident, traveled with her to Mexico to visit her family, and began to help care for his mother more while his dad worked 12-hour days or longer. But through it all, his mom faced worsening side effects of treatment.
“I lived months of hardship watching my mother in continuous pain and discomfort, trying my best to not let this stress impede on my adolescent life. Nothing could stop her cancer. It had spread to her brain, left breast, ovaries, and thyroid.”
For months near the end, Darwin recalls his mother not being sure if she could endure the pain and suffering of metastatic cancer for much longer. Sadly, his mother passed away surrounded by loved ones in the fall of 2017.
Life After Cancer
After his mother’s death, Darwin and his family returned to her village in Mexico to fulfill her wish of being buried there. As Darwin reflected on her past life in the village and all their family had endured over the years, he realized how much he appreciated the life his mother worked so hard to give him. Even in the face of this tragedy, Darwin knew he couldn’t let his sorrow hold him back from his future.
“Overcoming the loss of a parent to terminal illness beginning my senior year of high school has indeed shaped my outlook on life,” Darwin explained. “I have become much more loving towards my closest peers, who provided me with love and support during my extraordinarily difficult time. I have developed a true appreciation for my six-year-old brother, who I now feel gifted with to guide.”
He also continued to pour himself into his school work, even becoming part of a highly selective clinically based program through Northern Westchester BOCES, New Visions Health. Through the program, Darwin was able to take honors courses while also experiencing clinical rotations in a number of departments, including radiology and pharmacology.
“My mother’s death has motivated me to pursue a higher education in legacy of her hard work and perseverance,” Darwin continued. “My experiences have shaped me to seek to bring optimism and joy to the lives of others, specifically by pursuing a career as a medical doctor. Observing the care that so many community members and medical staff gave to my mother, has now galvanized me to study medicine, with the goal of one day being able to heal and comfort families, specifically immigrant families who may not know what to do in a time of medical crisis.”
Darwin hopes his collegiate career at Columbia University will help drive forward his future medical career in his mother’s honor. “I envision myself pursuing a medical career, being an active community member, and bringing positive change to the lives of others, perhaps even as an oncologist.”
The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance is honored to present the scholarship to Darwin and see the difference he can make in the oncology field as he furthers his education and pursues his career.