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Jun 30 2017
by Syeda Anjum

How A High School Student from the Bronx Took on College and Cancer

By Syeda Anjum - Jun 30 2017
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The college admissions process is daunting to say the least. We've torn through the additional piles of homework and the supplements' word limits, while taking on our own personal conflicts.

Aisha Guadalupe is no stranger to resilience. During her upperclassmen years at the Bronx High School of Science, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer that affects the body’s lymphatic system. The physical and emotional turmoils she experienced has no doubt touched every aspect of her life, including her own personal take on the college process. Fresh U was able to get insight on what that experience was like for her.

What was your transition like from junior to senior year?

“Sometimes I like to say that by the time junior year rolled around I was getting my life together but truth is I was very, very miserable. I was really sick and I knew something was wrong, even if my doctors said otherwise. So to be honest, heading into senior year after getting diagnosed was sort of a relief, because I had an answer after so long, and for the first time in a long time I could see the good side of things. Missing so much school during first term made it pretty rough to keep up, because I had to balance classwork plus homework plus the effects of chemo, which truly are not a fun combo. I'd take my textbooks to treatment, but it would take me forever to get though just a chapter. Aside from academics, I was also really worried about adjusting socially. And it was never about the people at Bronx Science, because they're quite an amazing group, but it was about being able to relate to everyone as I was actively going through treatment and all that jazz.”

To what extent did your diagnosis influence the colleges you wanted to apply to? Were you ever deterred from applying to any one particular college?

“I didn't ever really have an idea of where I wanted to go, to be honest. I started getting sick early in sophomore year, and by the time junior year rolled around, I kinda was just taking suggestions from my guidance counselor, teachers and family and was aimlessly compiling a list as I went on. I know I didn't want to stay home and I wanted something on the small-medium size, but that was about it. It was something that I knew was coming up, but being first gen and having parents that weren't really involved made it rough. After getting diagnosed with cancer, I just didn't have the energy to spare on caring about colleges and I honestly let my godmother compile a list and then I threw on some colleges that had good pre-med programs. One of the positives after being diagnosed was that I felt like I finally had an idea of what I wanted to do with my life and it is without a doubt to give back to the world of pediatric oncology. I also ended up applying to some schools in the city just in case I decided to stay home.”

To what extent did your diagnosis influence your common app essay?

“The days after I was diagnosed, one of my doctors looked at me and went, 'Well, at least you have a college essay.' And coming from anyone else, I might have kicked them out of my hospital room, but I had a pretty great relationship with him so this [was] funny. And it turned out to be true. My common app essay ended up being on how I had taken all the adversities life had tossed my way and turned them into something good. The difference with cancer was that it was a very keep-turning point for me and therefore played a larger role on the essay.”

How did you feel when you received your first college acceptance?

“I was shook, to be honest. My first acceptance was from what was originally a safety school (but it ended up being a major contender in the end) but it felt so unreal to have something so solid in front of me. I remember crying after getting diagnosed because school already felt impossible some days and it was like this could only make it worse. After spending most of first term in treatment, it was such a huge success to have gotten into a college. It made me really excited to get other ones and it helped lessen the apathy I was experiencing to all things educational.”

How did your friends and family play a role in motivating you through the college process?

“As a first generation college student, my parents were always supportive of my choice to go to college, but when it came to the actual brunt work of it (researching schools, filling out FAFSA, etc.), I had to do a lot of it alone, which is no news to many first gen college students. My godmother and god-sister were both very supportive in helping me compile a list of colleges. And some of my best friends, who had a ton on their own plate, turned around to help me and make sure I was getting things done by deadlines. A lot of them were going through the same process, so they knew when I had to get things together and they did such an amazing job at convincing me that the college process was gonna be worth it.”

Aisha Guadalupe

In the fall of 2017, Aisha will be attending Smith College, a prestigious women's college in the United States. She hopes that she can pass on her story to inspire others to never lose faith for a brighter future.

Lead Image Credit: Aisha Guadalupe

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Syeda Anjum - Barnard College

Syeda Anjum is a freshman at Barnard College of Columbia University majoring in film studies with the pre-med track. She is a huge Harry Potter fan and she loves to spend her time tutoring kids. Syeda's hobbies include trying to maintain a bullet journal, watching gameplays on YouTube, and snuggling with cats.

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