Sarita Flaming (’91) knows the pain of losing a loved one as well as the fear and uncertainty that accompany a cancer diagnosis. She has experienced both, losing her best friend to violence at an early age and more recently surviving breast cancer.
Those experiences, along with her abiding Catholic faith, helped Flaming develop a strong sense of compassion, which is defined as a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for someone who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a desire to alleviate the suffering. It led her to become a volunteer in hematology/oncology at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego where she gained a greater understanding of the impacts of cancer on patients and their families.
When she learned of San Diego State University’s Wallace, Shatsky, Blackburn, Courage Through Cancer Student Success Fund and its mission to assist students affected by the disease, Flaming’s compassion compelled her to contribute.
Coping with loss and the challenges of serious illness helped her understand the myriad difficulties confronting students who are diagnosed with cancer or who have a family member with the illness.
“Your life comes to a screeching halt,” she said. “Whether it’s financial, emotional, family—it all stops.”
Pressures at home
For students, cancer diagnosis and the treatment that follows can seriously impede the ability to focus on studies. The diagnosis of a family member, especially a parent, can drain personal and family finances, prompting a student to quit school and move home to provide care or help pay the bills.
“There are those emotions like a thick soup with everybody trying to do their best and help out, while in the back of (the student’s) mind is, ‘Well, I can always go back to school and finish later. It will always be there,’” Flaming said. “Allowing them to be able to stay in school with their friends learning and taking steps toward their future is important and I think it’s critical we help provide that for them.”
To that end, Flaming has contributed generously to the Courage Through Cancer Fund over the past year, including a gift to the 2020 End-of-Year Campaign to raise $100,000.
“In your early 20s your whole world is turned upside down and you don’t have life experiences to let you know that you will get through this,” she said. “But now that I’m on the other side I hope to be one of the donors who can collectively put our arms around these kids and say, ‘We are here to let you know you are going to get through this. We are here to help. You are not alone.’”
Flaming feels so passionately about the fund that she inspired her in-laws and long-time SDSU donors, Art ('60) and Gwen Flaming, to contribute a $20,000 match gift to the current campaign.
Since its inception at the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year, the Wallace, Shatsky, Blackburn, Courage Through Cancer Student Success Fund has helped 20 SDSU students stay on track to graduate thanks to compassion-driven donors like Mark Mays (’69) who provided one of the original gifts to launch the fund. He has pledged to match contributions to the 2020 End-of-Year Campaign from SDSU students and faculty up to $15,000.
Mays lost his wife, Karen, to breast cancer in 2013.
“I am sensitive to some of the enormous challenges of someone with a cancer diagnosis,” he said. “They go up exponentially aside from the rigors and challenges of a regular student getting through school.”
Mays has met several students assisted through the Courage Through Cancer Fund and considers them to be heroes.
“They are all just charming, driven, grateful young people sharing a common thread of resolve to make it in spite of everything. When the challenge is financial and we can fill that need, then they can concentrate on other things without worrying where their next dollars are coming from.
“It makes me feel good to be able to help.”
Mays spent two-and-a-half years at SDSU. He said his experience as a student at the university changed his life in many ways.
“I matured into a young adult from an adolescent. I made lifelong friends,” he said. “I am a believer in the mission of San Diego State.” A big part of that belief is lending a helping hand to students who find themselves facing unexpected adversity.
“It’s a marvelous thing if we can play a part in getting these students with enormous challenges—more than the average student—across the finish line with their degree,” Mays said. “That means a lot to me.”
To help an SDSU student facing a cancer crisis, make a donation to the Wallace, Shatsky, Blackburn, Courage Through Cancer Fund at /bit.ly/2K9nqUm.