College Essay: Determination and optimism from ‘Mama’

Janet Valdez
Janet Valdez, Minneapolis Roosevelt High School

Blood ran from Mama’s—my grandmother’s—arm and through the IV as the nurse said, “We will have the results in a couple of weeks and have you stop by then.”

The week seemed eternal before we knew the results. Finally, we got the call and rushed to the hospital. As I entered the examination room, the smell of cleaning supplies and chemicals made its way to my nose. The sounds of nurses and babies echoed loudly through the halls. Sitting in the chair, my eyes scanned the hospital room until they met the doctor’s. The doctor looked at us with a sorrowful face as he shared the news that the blood results showed cancer—leukemia, to be specific.

Leukemia? I was six and didn’t know what that was. From that day on, there were endless trips to doctor appointments and treatments, and I became Mama’s translator. I learned phrases and words that an everyday kid shouldn’t know. Two of the most complicated were blood pressure (presion arterial) and chemotherapy (quimioterapia). I learned how to translate two of the doctor’s favorite phrases: “We have to take your blood to run some tests,” (Vamos a tomar tu sangre para hacer unos análisis) and, “We will see you again next week for your chemotherapy” (Nos vemos la siguiente semana para su quimioterapia).

As time went on, I learned many medical terms, met new people and started to be recognized at the hospital. For a month at a time, Mama would get better for a bit, then worse again. Yet, with each stay at the hospital she would always find a way to feel better. When I was there with her I became more than her granddaughter. I was her caretaker, her support system and a reason for her to keep fighting.

I was the one who helped her get up and move around our apartment. I was the one who washed her clothes and cleaned. One of my fun responsibilities was to help her stay happy by playing my clarinet, chatting and simply watching TV with her. While taking care of her, I noticed no matter how much pain she was in, she would always try to have a smile on her face. With every smile, she would look at me and tell me in Spanish, “Never forget that you are a strong woman, and that no matter what I will always be with you and never leave you.”

One of Mama’s biggest dreams was to see me graduate from high school and college. She told me stories about how some of my family did not have the opportunity to go to school, and that the ones who did wasted it. She told me that I was going to be the first with a college degree.

When I am struggling with school, I remind myself that I am not only doing this for me but also for her. Knowing that one of the reasons she fought for so long was to see me graduate motivates me to work hard.

After eight years of trying different treatments and home remedies, she passed away. Whenever I cannot find the answer to a problem and I feel like quitting, I simply remember her smile, her positivity and the strength she had.

Having determination and being optimistic is important because succeeding in school and in work is difficult, and you cannot give up right away. You have to find the person or thing that motivates you to always give your best and to never settle for anything less. I learned this through helping my grandmother, and being at her side even through her worst moments.