Wife, mother of two earns master's degree while battling cancer - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Wife, mother of two earns master's degree while battling cancer

Father Tim Eden Father Tim Eden
Caryn DeMello Caryn DeMello
Nani Vegas & Ed Paola Nani Vegas & Ed Paola

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

KAIMUKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's tough enough to be a parent and have a full-time job. Add to that graduate studies and overcoming a life-threatening illness.

On Monday, Caryn DeMello will proudly receive a master's degree. She worked for it while battling breast cancer.

But this isn't just a story about DeMello. It's also about the special group of friends who rallied around her.

When Caryn DeMello and several other Hawaii educators started the Master's in Educational Leadership program at Chaminade University in October 2008, it was clear this cohort was special.

"From the minute I met these 10 people, I mean, they were fun and they were, you know, noisy," Father Tim Eden, Chaminade University, said while laughing.

But just four months into the program, one of them received devastating news. Caryn -- a wife, mother of two, and vice principal at St. Anthony School in Kailua -- went in for a routine mammogram and learned she had an aggressive form of breast cancer.

"Her biggest concern wasn't the cancer," Nani Vegas, fellow master's student, said. "It was, I was told I can only miss two classes and I might have to drop out. So I was like, oh my gosh, you just need to fight for your life."

Caryn quickly decided she wasn't going to let cancer derail her. She needed to complete her graduate studies and show her family that she still had a future.

"She was just determined that this was going to work," Eden said. "I mean, you really couldn't say no to her."

"She was the first one done with her projects and I remember thinking, how is this lady doing this?" Ed Paola, fellow master's student, said. "She's working, has a family, she's dealing with this, and she's still going to school and still getting everything done."

Other members of the cohort were inspired by Caryn's gritty determination through chemotherapy treatments and multiple surgeries. They did what they could to help her achieve her goal, including driving to her home or the hospital to deliver her assignments, and even missing class if they had a cold so she could safely be there.

"They have been a truly phenomenal group," DeMello said. "I cannot, you know, they say the Lord, He works in mysterious ways. For whatever reason, he put me in this place with this group of people to fight the toughest battle of my life."

On Monday, the day after Mother's Day, Caryn will participate in Chaminade's graduation ceremony and receive her master's degree.

"It is for everyone that I will walk tomorrow and I will receive that degree," she said. "It will belong to everyone."

DeMello also credits her husband, Dean, her children, Kekai and Kapii, and her parents, Lionel and Elizabeth Camara, for giving her strength.

She has had seven surgeries and is now examined every six months to make sure the cancer hasn't returned.

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