We made it! An open letter to my son.

Ya mero llegamos?”

Are we almost there? These become one of the most dreaded words I have to hear every weekend, when I pick you up from the long commute that is from Sacramento to the bay area to spend time with you. Oftentimes I am just as inpatient as you my love. This has been our sacrifice these last few years, being physically away from one another. I take a deep breath, look down at the speedometer unchanged at 20 mph, the red tail lights gleaming back at us, and your favorite Michael Jackson song playing in the background. “Paciencia Elias, paciencia,” I reply. I too need to hear this from time to time.

Ya mero llegamos. Sometimes we get caught up focusing on the destination, or going from point A to B, that we forget to really appreciate the moments we have had in between. I wanted to share with you three things this journey has taught me.

1. Having Ganas! or grit. Even when you were in my womb, you were there studying with me; reading those darn exam books in preparation for the MCAT. I’m sorry for that extra cup of coffee I had to have, I think you turned out OK.

Then when your father and I parted ways, you continued to bare with me as we both moved back into your Abuelito’s house in a town ironically named Salida or “exit” just 85 miles east of San Francisco. To be honest, I felt embarrassed coming back home. A failure. A UC Berkeley grad who had worked hard to reach her goal and let the dream of medical school slowly slip away. I had recently taken the MCAT, and applications were due soon. Unemployed and struggling to find a job, I decided to take a gamble. With no knowledge of my MCAT score, I proceeded to submit my medical school application. I refused to be another statistic, for both of us Elias. I wanted to do better for you. After getting that call from UC Davis, as they say, the rest is history.

2. Resilience. As much as I enjoy medicine, medical school just had a way of pushing the boundaries and questioning my capabilities. It is easy to lose sight of your purpose when you are stuck in a classroom all day, in front of books all night, and no patient in sight. I remember the many sleepless nights. After putting you to bed, I would quickly run back to the books sometimes until 3 or 4 a.m. And even as prepared as I thought I was, there were moments when those exams just did not reflect the time and effort I invested. I became frustrated and disillusioned, struggling through the first of many board exams, while being away from you.

When one of my school dean’s asked, “It seems that parenting and medical school are just too stressful right now, had you ever considered nursing or PA school?” I was immediately offended. I quickly responding with a firm “no.” The last time I remember wanting to quit, I was a freshman in college. Your Tito (Abuelito) would have none of it. He said, “This is exactly what you wanted. The only way you can come back to this house, is with a graduation diploma.”

I thank your Tito for that early lesson, it reminds me to keep being peskily persistent. I push forward to set an example for you, to let you know that you can dream big and make it, you just got to put in the work. I am happy to say, that same dean hoping to raise doubt, will be hooding me in May. I’ll make sure to send a huge smile his way.

3. Strength in your vulnerability. I would not be here today without a colleague helping me get back on track, a friend pulling me aside to chat, or a mentor simply telling me “Si Se Puede, Karina!” Yes, you can! I was reminded Elias, about the power that lies in our struggle when I mustered up the courage to share our story at a prehealth conference. A young premed approached me after the workshop, and she began to cry. I learned that she was in community college, also raising a son, wanting to go to medical school, but that she had not come across anyone like her.

This experience taught me that my story is not necessarily unique. Rather, these are stories that are often left untold. There is strength in sharing your vulnerability with others, and that you might just have a profound impact on someone without even knowing it. Having the courage to tell your story often leads you to find that in those feelings of inadequacy, disappointment, and letdowns, you are not alone. Throughout the years I have met many variations of Karinas, either a premed student or a colleague in medical school, and just as someone reached out to me, I’ve always made a point to pay it forward.

Our journey Elias has not been quite the linear one. It has had its fair share of ups and downs, setbacks and delays. Yet I am extremely grateful for getting this far in life, and I would not have it any other way, because each and every experience has shaped us into who we are now.

So next time I pick you up, glance over at the unchanged speedometer, the red tail lights beaming back at us, while your favorite Michael Jackson song is heard in the background, and you ask, “Ya mero llegamos” I will smile back at you through the rear-view mirror and say, “Si mijo, WE made it!”

Karina Chavez is a medical student.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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