According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer. St. Thomas Law School student Angela Nieves is one of these women. Her story is one of resilience and the power of having the support of a tight-knit community that will move mountains to help you succeed.
The first bouquet of flowers Angela Nieves received when she was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) was from the faculty and staff at the St. Thomas University School of Law (STU Law).
The bouquet arrived January 8, 2020, just one day after Nieves underwent a near 11-hour surgery to remove and reconstruct her breast. Who was texting her husband the entire time to check on her progress? STU Law Assistant Dean at the Office for Career Development, Lourdes Fernandez.
“People talk about the STU family. It’s true. I lived it. In one of the most difficult moments of my life they went above and beyond for me,” Angela said with a wave of emotion taking over her voice.
Angela’s story begins with her first love: music. For more than10 years she walked to the beat of her own drum and produced her own music, sang, performed, and traveled around the world playing the electric bass among other instruments. She always dreamt of becoming a lawyer but wanted to give her music talents a go.
In her mid-thirties, Nieves decided to pursue her college degree. While studying at Florida International University, she discovered a translation program. After enrolling, she landed her next gig as a translator at Telemundo. As the years went on, she realized that television didn’t fit the dreams she envisioned for herself. That is when she made the decision to attend law school.
Before Angela could start her journey to attend law school, her life took an unexpected turn.
At 39, Angela was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. She was told that she had a low chance of reoccurrence, so she knew her dream of attending law school was still attainable. Today, when Angela recounts those moments, she is calm and centered.
Upon reaching the 5-year mark of being cancer free, Angela began studying for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Fast forward to March 2018, and Angela received her acceptance letter to STU Law.
Two years raced by, and Angela absorbed everything she could from her peers and leaders at STU Law. In that second year that familiar feeling returned to her body.
Her breast cancer was back.
The news came in late October 2019. What followed were weeks of testing and coordination with doctors on surgery dates, and preparations for a long recovery road.
Angela credits her STU Law family for helping her get through the weeks before her surgery and the uncertainty of how her recovery would impact her spring semester.
Dean Fernandez made sure Angela kept busy in the leadup to the surgery, connecting her with a former judge to work on a project right up to the day before her surgery.
Angela thought she’d have to skip spring semester and delay graduation, but the STU Law faculty and staff stepped up once again. Assistant Dean for Student Affairs John F. Hernandez helped her work out a school schedule that allowed her to secure the credits she needed to stay on schedule, and at the same time develop her research and writing skills. Dean Fernandez, and Associate Dean of Administration and Clinical Programs Cece Dykas, with collaboration from an STU Law alum, helped her obtain an externship where she would earn academic credit and gain valuable experience.
Despite all the curveballs life threw her way, Angela has persevered and is on track to graduate with the rest of her class in 2021. A class who she mentions also stepped up for her. They visited her, sent gift baskets, and made sure her phone was always buzzing with a loving and supportive call or text message.
She is currently in remission and will be undergoing treatment for the next 5 years.
“This experience has taught me to not plan so much of my life. I’ve always planned everything down to the last detail,” Angela said when speaking about what she has learned from battling breast cancer.
“I learned to ask for help. And most importantly, that I have a family beyond my husband Tony and my cat Bobby.”