Profile of 2013 John Benson Scholarship winner Marcos Cordon

I was born in a small town in Guatemala where life was anything but easy.  In my surroundings I would see beaten down souls wander the streets; soul beaten down by the cruel hands of poverty.  As young as I was, I knew I wanted my future to be different.  Before turning six, my world had a dramatic change.  My family and I fled the poverty of Guatemala to search for a better future,  to search for the American Dream.  My parents assured me life was going to be easier, but I often questioned the truth in their words.  In elementary school I faced the struggle of not speaking English, which then made me feel incompetent.  From the day I set foot in elementary school, I have felt like giving up and returning to Guatemala.  Yet, when I remember the many extra hours my parents spent working in the fields to raise enough money to bring me to the United States, I realized I could not give up.

Throughout by life I could have subsided to drugs, joined a gang or dropped out of school like many of the boys I grew up with.  I witnessed the never-ending struggle my parents faced at the end of every month.  I was forced to mature early by taking on the responsibilities of an adult.  Since I was twelve I have cared for my sister’s baby while she and my parents worked.  From 6:00 to 10:00 p.m., I have been my niece’s father; feeding, changing and attending her every need.  When I wasn’t babysitting, I was either on the soccer field or lost in homework, trying to fulfill my parents’ expectations to be an athlete and the first in my family to graduate from high school and attend college.  My whole life I have been involved in a game of  tug-o-war, except I haven’t been a player.  I have been the rope, pulled back and forth by the adversity experienced as a Latino immigrant on one end and on the other end by the motivation received from my family.

“Daddy, please don’t leave me!” were the last words I told my father before he left for San Jose, California to find a job to support my family.  As the bus faded into the distance and darkness of the night, my breath shortened, my chest tightened and my thoughts became a blur.  I had been buried alive, deep into the ground, with no escape.  With every gasp for air I lost sense of who I was and control over life escaped my grasp.

From that moment on, I have struggled with social anxiety.  This condition has been present in my life at a severe and chronic level, especially during my high school years.  This has caused tremendous mental and physical distress in my life.  Long, sleepless nights of AP homework, days filled with rigorous tests and draining soccer practices contributed to the toll anxiety had on my life.  In my junior year my anxiety reached a level at which I had to be hospitalized for weeks at a time.  Frequent migraines and the inability to breathe required  constant supervision from doctors.  I was prescribed many medications which actually prevented me from being myself.  I lost interest in interacting with others and I could not concentrate during class.  Anxiety had stolen my identity and deprived me of who I was.  I feared failing in my education, sports activities and social life.  This fear heightened the effects of my anxiety.  I recall the many times that I woke up in an emergency room after being sedated due to an uncontrollable attack.  My life had truly been buried into the ground and an abyss of darkness surrounded me.  Yet, as my whole life became so dark, it became easier to see even the slightest glimmer of light.

I realized that I could not give up.  I could not allow anxiety to continue to control my life.  Rather than seeing sports and school as catalysts to my anxiety, I used them as an escape.  Those draining soccer practices now relieved stress and helped me clear my mind.  Gasping for air was no longer a bad thing, for the cause was not an anxiety attack but the sprint I ran to score a goal.  Homework and tests were no longer a step towards anxiety; they were a step towards success.

My parents have shaped by ideas and aspirations for the future.  Witnessing their perseverance through countless struggles has been the best example to guide me through life. They have taught me to never settle for ordinary and to always shoot for better.  They have encouraged me to pursue a college degree so that one day I will be able to achieve the American Dream.  With their example and encouragement, I graduated from Garfield High School with a 4.25 overall Grade Point Average.

My interest in human health and immunology has developed continuously for the past thirteen years.  It began when my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer.  As a five-year old child, I contemplated the question “Why does papa have cancer?”   Witnessing my invincible, six-foot two grandfather being defeated by cancer during eight long months sparked several ideas in me, from inventing magic potions to cancer-curing potions.  As young as I was, I wanted to find a cure for cancer.  Two years after his death my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Her body did not endure as long as my grandfather’s and she passed away after only two months.  After losing both my grandparents to cancer I made it my goal to one day become a doctor and find a cure for the disease that had caused so much pain for my family.

Prior to my sophomore year at Garfield, my newborn niece was diagnosed with leukemia.  The thought of losing my niece to this foul disease enraged me and made me become even more determined to find a cure.  I now contemplated mature concepts of disease prevention and biomedical engineering.  I often have dreams of modifying the proteins of cancer cells on a molecular level, augmenting the capacity of medical screening technology, and addressing physicians about enhancing the quality of daily conditions to decrease health risks. My first step is to go to an institution that will provide me with advanced tools and a worl-class research environment.

In Guatemala the tools and facilities to promote good health are scarce.  I constantly watch the news and learn of more people in third world countries that have lost their lives to cancer.  Even though I do not know those people, their plight motivates me to work harder to achieve my goal of finding a cure for cancer.

Marco Cordon

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