(HARLINGEN) – It was back in 2010 when Ruth Trevino began her journey at Texas State Technical College and proved to herself and others that nothing, not even breast cancer, was going to stop her from getting a college education.
Tonight, the 36-year-old single mom and breast cancer survivor will walk the stage in a cap and gown with her family in the audience and receive her associate degree in Health Information Technology.
“I’ve been working toward this for a very long time,” she said. “Life was passing me by and nothing was going to stop me.”
The journey to commencement has not been easy. Straight out of high school, married and living on a military base in Alaska, Trevino completed a few online classes before becoming a mom.
As a military family they moved often, also calling Oklahoma and Austin home.
“Life was happening, but I always kept school in the back of my mind. Getting an education was important to me.”
When Trevino moved to Harlingen she discovered TSTC after completing a medical assistant program at another college and realizing it was not the career for her.
“I loved the medical field, but poking people with needles was not for me,” she said. “So when I found out about health information at TSTC I knew that was the path I was supposed to take.”
She graduated with a certificate from the TSTC Medical Information Transcription program first, while she was pregnant with her third child, then made the jump to earn her associate degree in Health Information Technology, which is the comprehensive management of health information, data and resources in doctor’s offices or hospitals.
With only three classes left, life threw her an unexpected twist and Trevino was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer on Christmas Eve in 2016.
“This was the hardest fight,” she said. “My worst fear was that I would die and leave my children behind. I was all they had, they were all I had. And we fought together.”
With family in California and San Antonio, Trevino went through chemotherapy and radiation alone most of the time and she found herself falling behind in school.
“I couldn’t focus or absorb anything I was learning,” said Trevino. “My instructors noticed it too and because they wanted me to be successful and concentrate on my health they advised me to withdraw and return when I was able to focus.”
And return she did.
In between cancer treatments and a radical mastectomy, the full removal of the breast and lymph nodes, she took an online course to keep up.
“I honestly just needed to keep my mind busy and I was determined to finish,” she said. “I had to prove my resilience. Breast cancer was not going to stop me.”
Trevino said a huge part of the reason she is where she is today is because of the support she received from family, friends and her instructors.
Dina Martinez, counselor at Vela Middle School in Harlingen, is one of those friends who helped Trevino and her children during this difficult time. She first met Trevino when her oldest son was an eighth grader at the school and shared with her his mother’s cancer diagnosis.
“I felt compelled to help Ms. Trevino because not only do we assist our students and their families with social, emotional and family needs, but I, too, am a cancer survivor,” she said. “I knew firsthand what Ms. Trevino was going through so I shared resources and my team and I were able to help by raising money for the family and helping with household maintenance.”
Martinez also added, “I admire Ms. Trevino for being a single mother, a cancer survivor and now a graduate of TSTC. Her journey has been difficult, but she never gave up. She is an amazing person and has set a great example for her children, all women and mothers and anyone facing this journey. She is definitely a success story and I know her future holds great things.”
After tonight, Trevino hopes to find a job that will help her get back on her feet and allow her to support her children. After gaining some experience and momentum, she hopes to return to school for a bachelor’s degree in Health Information Governance and Data.
“I know I still have challenges ahead, but my faith continues to give me strength,” she said. “I will continue to pray daily because only God knows how I’ve been able to get through everything.”
Trevino is one of more than 400 students receiving a certificate or associate degree tonight during TSTC’s commencement ceremonies at 4 and 7 p.m. at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium.