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Cancer treatment provides chance
to pursue his college dream at 53
May 12, 2014
Community College of Rhode Island student Christopher Becote has had to face some difficult challenges. After a lifetime of work in the hospitality industry, he was forced to make a career transition in 2007 – not at the hands of the recession or layoff, but rather something even more life-altering: a cancer diagnosis. But where most would see an interruption at best, an ending at worst, Becote continues to see this transition as a beginning.
When his doctors told him he had head and neck cancer and would have to take time off work to pursue treatment, Becote used the time not only to focus on getting better, but to think about what would come next.
He said he wanted to start work in a new field and learn a new skill while he was recuperating, and decided to find that new beginning at the college, pursuing his associate degree in General Studies and, eventually, a certificate in computer networking.
"Ever since I was in high school, I've wanted to go to CCRI, but never had the courage to pursue it. But now, here I am," he said.
Becote said that he enjoys the flexibility and stimulation of the information technology industry, saying there are different avenues that he will be able to pursue once he completes his studies. "Right now, I'm not sure where I want to go, but I'll have the time to figure that out," he said.
Although beginning college for the first time at the age of 53 was daunting for Becote, he credits Access, a federally funded Student Support Services TRIO program at CCRI, with helping him get acclimated and ready to succeed. Because Becote has a learning disability that interferes with his reading comprehension and writing capabilities, the resources Access provides are particularly important.
"Any time I need help, I can call my Access counselor and she can guide me in the right direction. One of the things that really scared me about coming to CCRI was the thought that I'd be on my own, but that's not the case. I get a lot of help," he said.
Some of that help has come in the form of financial assistance. Becote recently was the recipient of an Alumni Association Book Award, an unexpected boon in a time of continued medical expenses. The Book Award enabled him to purchase software so that he could dictate his assignments, improving his writing in the face of his learning disability. "I'm ecstatic about the award; I've never won anything before," he said.
Apart from starting in computer networking, Becote has another goal for when he's graduated and done with treatment: He wants to return to volunteering in hospice care. Back when he had more free time before the demands of classes got to be too much, he volunteered locally at Beacon Hospice Care, inspired in part by his own journey through the health care system and in part by his mother's death a few years earlier.
"Right before I got sick, my mother got sick. She didn't want to go into the nursing home before she died; she wanted to be taken care of at home. I saw how hospice came in and took such good care of my mother, and I wanted to pay it forward," he said.