Victoria Dzorka

In my relatively brief life of twenty-five years, I have been confronted with a series of events that have shaped me into a resilient individual. As the first person in my extended family to complete a Bachelors degree and therefore the first to pursue a Masters degree, I take pride in my tenacity. I worked tirelessly to graduate Summa Cum Laude from UCSC and to get into the MSW program at CSUS. While pursuing my educational goals, I have also experienced my three most difficult days. The hardest day of my life was May 16, 2015, when I lost my brother in a BASE-jumping accident in Yosemite National Park. The second was July 24, 2016 when my sister was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The third came on January 12, 2017 when I received my own diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.


I made the move back to Northern California in 2016 with the goal of consolidating my life. I had applied to the MSW program at CSUS and moved to my hometown after two years of living in Ghana and a year of AmeriCorps service in Los Angeles. A week after I moved home, one year after the loss of my brother, my family was dealt another difficult card. My sister, twenty-eight years old and the mother of two children, one of whom has autism, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I immediately moved in with her and took on a caretaking role, working my schedule around her treatment and helping with my niece and nephew. After seven months of fighting, we can proudly rejoice that she is in remission.
While adjusting to graduate school and helping my sister, I was simultaneously working to unite with my husband after two and a half years of immigration procedures. I found myself contacting local legislators, the Department of State, and members of the Ghanaian Parliament to demand answers regarding his case, finally getting his interview scheduled for December 2016. After finals, I flew to Ghana with the intent of bringing my husband home. While there, I fell ill with sepsis. I watched as my leg continued to swell and my body went into shock. My final night in Ghana was in the hospital, and the next day my husband and I departed for the United States.


After the two-day journey, I spent five days in the Emergency overflow treating my leg and undergoing tests. A suspicious blur on my x-ray led to a CT scan, then a biopsy. A tumor was found in my chest, much like the one that they had found in my sister’s chest six months earlier. A week after spotting the mass, I received my cancer diagnosis.
I am now a Masters student and a cancer patient. With this constant stress, my marriage has struggled. Of overwhelming concern has been our financial situation in our hunt for affordable housing and a job for him to support us. As a new immigrant deemed an “unskilled laborer”, my husband is working sporadic hours at minimum wage. I have had neither the time nor the energy to teach him to drive, so I am his only transportation. I am often pulling sixteen-hour days as I attend classes, work two jobs, intern at the Roseville police department, receive treatment, and pick my husband up from work as late at 1 a.m. in Sacramento to return to our new accommodations in Cameron Park, thirty miles away. Adding to my constantly stressed state are the threats I face to healthcare access; I was recently informed that my insurance does not cover chemotherapy co-pays, and I am anxiously awaiting my twenty-sixth birthday in May, the day I will be dropped from my mom’s insurance. The biopsychosocial implications of any one of these challenges could be overwhelming. Compounded, they present me with a unique opportunity as a future social worker.


Despite my current struggles, I recognize that I am blessed to have an increased capacity for empathy to better serve clients and am ultimately blessed to be here. I owe it to myself to be the best possible person I can be, and to use my story to better the lives of others. I am currently working on several projects with the American Cancer Society as they advocate for essential healthcare provisions provided to cancer patients that are now at risk in our current political climate.
If I could give advice to anyone facing similar circumstances, it would be to stay true to yourself and find a way to appreciate the small things in life, regardless of how trivial they may seem. To stay consistent to one’s character is essential in maintaining both physical and mental health. Remaining active is also key, both in regards to mental stimulation and physical activity. I currently find solace in bi-monthly exercises with the police department, bike rides, and being outside in my garden as much as possible, savoring the dirt between my fingers. Remaining connected to others, to nature, and listening to my body has made this process significantly more holistic.
I refuse to allow my negative circumstances to dictate my life or deny me the one thing that brings me the most joy—my education. When I shared my diagnosis with my university’s social work department, I was pressured to drop out of the program. I was sent to multiple offices to share my very personal story, only to face continuous discouragement. I read every manual, every policy handbook, spoke with every professor, registered myself as a student with a disability, and advocated for myself to remain a graduate student despite having cancer. The MSW program is my self-care; it is the one thing that is strictly my own and which provides me hope for the future.



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