Discover Your Island

Karyn Salazar

Outstanding Islanders

Photo of Karyn Salazar

A Role Model of Perseverance

On December 12, 2015, Karyn Salazar, an English major at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, will be the first person in her family to graduate from college. During her time as an Islander, she faced several major challenges including the shocking diagnosis of ovarian cancer at the young age of 23, the sudden loss of her beloved grandfather to lung cancer, a divorce and the task of raising her daughter as a single mother.

“Through it all, my family’s encouragement has carried me far,” said Salazar. “This degree belongs to them just as much as it belongs to me.”

It was during Salazar’s final semester, in spring 2015, that the ovarian cancer was discovered.

“I was told by doctors that I would need to withdraw from the University to undergo 12 weeks of chemotherapy,” she said. “So I withdrew.”

The chemo, she says, was the hardest thing she has ever been through.

“It was intense. Every third week, I received life-saving poison through a device surgically implanted in my chest. It lasted eight hours a day, five days a week, for three months,” said Salazar.

Through it all, she gained encouragement from her faith and her family.

“My mother continued to work and take care of my daughter while I was weak and ill,” said Salazar. “She had just lost her father to lung cancer and was now facing the possibility of losing her only child. She is the strongest woman I know.”

Salazar’s daughter, Lyla, who is 2 years old, also kept Salazar motivated and in high spirits during her cancer treatment.

“I knew, as a single mother, it would be difficult to provide for Lyla without a college degree,” she said. “I will never tell a single mother that maintaining your household and attending school at the same time is easy, but I promise that it is possible.”

On July 23, 2015, though bald and weak, Salazar was finally in remission. In fall 2015, she re-enrolled at A&M-Corpus Christi, with just one semester’s worth of coursework to complete.

Also in the fall, Salazar was hired as a Peer Mentor for the First Scholars' Academy Program in the Center for Academic Student Achievement (CASA) at A&M-Corpus Christi. As a Peer Mentor, Salazar serves first-generation college students by providing them with the guidance and support needed to graduate. She meets with students on a weekly basis to discuss their progress, grades, goals and extra-curricular activities. Together, they work through problems to find the appropriate resources that best meet their needs.

“I sincerely care for my students because I see myself in them,” said Salazar. “Seeing them jump hurdles with grace makes me so happy. I know they are on their way to big things and I get to see where it all started.”

Salazar passions include her Christian faith, education, literature, music, and now, ovarian cancer advocacy. Her future plans include graduate school and a possible career as an English professor. She says, through all the struggles, she has many fond memories of her time on campus, though the best memory is yet to come.

“I think my favorite memory will be made on December 12, when I walk the stage, with my daughter in the audience,” she said. “I am ecstatic to be graduating. I can't believe that I have really finished this race.”