09:27 AM

STC administrator battles cancer, inspires support group for cancer fighters


More than a year ago, South Texas College Administrator Shannon Perales received the devastating news that she was diagnosed with stage 4 renal cell carcinoma. Not letting the disease overcome her, Perales said it motivated her to take action to reach out to students, faculty and their families affected by the disease. Now she looks forward to starting STC’s first cancer support group in the fall.  

South Texas College Starfish Administrator Shannon Perales recalls the day she found out she had cancer.

Perales said she was simply enjoying life until that day on May 3, 2022, when a pain in her side changed everything. She was rushed to the hospital and received the news no one wants to hear. 

“My life was going really great. Everything was just moving along and accelerating. And all of a sudden, I got this pain, and within 2 hours I couldn't even stand up straight,” Perales said. “So, I went to the hospital and when I got there, they saw that I had a nine-centimeter tumor.”

The tumor turned out to be stage 4 renal cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of kidney cancer that has since metastasized into her lung and lymph nodes, she said.

For over a year now, Perales says she has been making monthly trips to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for treatment, and since her diagnosis has been able to shrink her tumor in half.

I look forward to the start of this support group for those fighting cancer and for their caregivers and families. I want to be able to provide an outlet to get together and to be able to let them know that we are here.  

-Shannon Perales, South Texas College Starfish Administrator

“I've been going to chemotherapy for a year now. I get my treatments and then go back to work, usually in the same week, but sometimes a day or two after. We have reduced the size of the initial tumor so I’m feeling good, actually better than I ever was,” Perales said. “We're moving forward and it's always a fight. I get tired and I have low energy often, but I keep going because I have to keep taking care of myself and my family. Even though there's no cure for this cancer I am always hopeful that recent advancements we've made in cancer research in the last few years have gotten to a point where I have a fighting chance to extend my life expectancy.”

But even in the face of challenges with the disease, Perales said she has found inspiration. An outpouring of support and empathy from STC leadership, staff and faculty has motivated her to begin a support group for cancer fighters.

“Beginning this fall, we are hopefully going to set up and start putting together these meetings, which I think will be quarterly at first, and then hopefully go up to once-a-month meetings so we can reach out and help everyone here on campus including staff, faculty and students,” Perales said. “We are looking to start one here at the Pecan campus at first and then hopefully find a way to extend it to STC’s Starr County, Mid-Valley, Technology and especially our Nursing and Allied Health campuses, which would be a great place to start.”

The idea, according to Perales, came to her after the support she received from leadership at the college.

She recalls the day when she informed STC President Ricardo J. Solis, PhD. about her prognosis, and how his reaction and the reaction of her supervisor Vice President Anahid Petrosian, Ph.D., inspired her to be the strongest version of herself as she continued to fight the disease.

 “I remember I was in the hallway, and I stopped to catch my breath and President Solis, who was nearby, asked me what was wrong. He looked at me and asked me sincerely ‘What are we going to do to fix this?’ and Vice President Petrosian reacted the same way,” Perales said. “I have never had anyone here say, ‘I'm sorry’. I don’t get sympathy from my STC family, but I have all the empathy in the world. I knew that the people around me here at STC were going to inspire me to keep fighting and be stronger.”

Perales said she looks forward to working with all the departments including STC’s Counseling and Student Accessibility Office, which is already reaching out to those who need the extra support to fight the disease. 

Statistics show that 50% of the people in the United States are affected by someone with cancer, and 50% of people who get cancer are afraid to talk about it, Perales said.

“It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's nothing to be embarrassed of. It's nothing that anyone has done,” Perales said as a message to those struggling through a cancer diagnosis. “Don't be afraid. There is continuous research being done and I believe that one day there will be a cure for everything. You're going to be ok.”

Perales said she’s hoping to get people to talk about their worries, treatments, as well as the ups and downs that come with fighting cancer. Meetings will be open to everyone affected by cancer along with their families who are taking care of them.

“I look forward to the start of this support group for those fighting cancer and for their caregivers and families. I want to be able to provide an outlet to get together amd to be able to let them know that we are here,” Perales said. “We want to let our students, as well as their family members, know that we recognize life happens, and when they reach out, we can help them find that support and to help them get the assistance they need."