DEVENS — Being diagnosed with leukemia at age 19 didn’t stop Victor Perez from graduating at Shriver Job Corps. Instead, the 21-year-old Fitchburg resident said the experience made him shoot higher and was a key factor to his goal of becoming a registered nurse.
“I got to see what patients go through and now that I’m a leukemia survivor, I look forward to helping other patients fight leukemia or other diseases,” he said. “I don’t want to see them give up; if I’m not giving up, I wouldn’t want them to give up.”
Perez’s leukemia is currently in remission, following an intensive regimen of chemotherapy that required him to take a one year leave of absence from the clinical nurse assistant program at Shriver Job Corps. He was diagnosed in February 2008, three months after enrolling. He’d been feeling sick and run down and was initially told he either had mono, a virus or Leukemia. Three days later, he heard the worst.
In the months that followed, Perez said there were times he wondered if he was going to live through treatment. However, Perez said the idea of going back to complete his studies helped keep him going. He recovered sufficiently enough to rejoin the program last May and said he’s feeling good these days, despite a steady diet of chemo pills and doctor’s visits. “I learned to work with it,” he said. “If I’m going to get where I want to go, I’m going to have to learn to work with flexible schedules.”
Upon returning, Perez learned his schedule was going to become more complicated. It turns out that Shriver was impressed with his determination and had nominated him to be a National Youth Ambassador for Job Corps. As a result, he traveled to Washington D.C., where he successfully interviewed to become one of 12 Youth Ambassadors nationwide. Since then, he’s also traveled to a Latin youth conference in Chicago, saying the job is primarily about speaking to young people and telling them the importance of education and hard work.
Perez said the one-year ambassadorship has been an inspirational and unexpected experience.
“I felt like when you receive a Christmas present,” he said. “I felt joy, happiness and surprise.”
Among those not surprised by Perez’s selection was Shriver admissions counselor Melanie Mericle, who credited Perez for showing persistence before he even came to Shriver. She remembered that the nursing program was full when Perez first applied, but he kept calling back to check for openings.
“He was very motivated and very determined right from the beginning,” said Mericle. “He definitely knew what he wanted and was very focused.”
Perez said he planned on attending college after high school, but decided to get some training first, so he could work as a nursing assistant while in school. Perez said he kicked up those goals since being diagnosed and left Shriver in early April to attend another Job Corps center in New York City, which offers a clinical medical assistant program.
He said the main idea is getting as much training as possible before enrolling at a two- or four -ear college. Perez added that he’ll likely be back to Shriver for graduation.
Mericle, for one, had little doubt Perez would be successful. “He’s one of the most motivated students I’ve met,” she said.
As for the Leukemia, Perez said he’s keeping a positive outlook, adding it was really life changing.
“I feel like I’m cured. Even thought I’m not, I feel like that, and that’s a positive thing for me,” he said. “I’m glad I went through it, because life for me is different now; back then I didn’t take advantage of life; now I want to take advantage of what’s been given to me.”
Located at 270 Jackson Road, Shriver offers training in 10 vocational paths, along with academic programs.