Michelle (2)

Michelle smiling

Michelle smiling


“My son was probably two years old when I got breast cancer. During this time I finally I got a section 8 apartment and it was really close to the church I was going to. I used to sing in the church choir and some of my friends on there noticed that I wasn’t looking very good.

I had to get surgery and went through all that process and after that, the church gave me $2000 to help me get out of Puerto Rico. So I started applying to schools because I wanted to do cancer research. So, Wichita State University had some research I was interested in. I don’t know or why, but I got accepted. I found a little apartment and within a year I graduated with a degree on Molecular Biology.

When you’re Latino, when you come from that background, you don’t really talk about your issues. That’s taboo. So, I always thought I was cursed. I felt completely unlovable and had this horrible family situation and thought that it was completely unique to me. In Wichita I started working at Upward Bound and started meeting some of these wonderful kids and a lot of their stories were very similar to mine and it just rocked me. It was one of those life-defining moments. I started telling them that if I did it, they could do it too. They can go to school, they can get ahead in life.

From there I got a job at Office of International Education and that’s where I met the girl’s dad. We got married really fast. And I found out that he was an alcoholic and he was abusive. And a month in to our marriage, I found out that had already cheated on me. But I was determined that I was going to make the marriage work, so I stayed.

One day he showed up to the house we had just bought, and by this point we already had our first baby, so he showed up and he said, ‘By the way, I got a new job and we’re moving to Topeka.’ I said, ‘What do you mean? We have everything here!’

Ironically, I came to Topeka kicking and screaming. My life was completely transformed. I had been teaching Biology at Butler Community College, I was really connected to my church, I had everything there. For me, there was no need to come here.

The cool thing about is that I get here and immediately start looking for jobs and got hired at Housing and Credit Counseling and by the sheer act of being hired there, I was able to meet some people that connected with the YWCA. Eventually that led me to get the help that I needed to get a divorce and not end up being another really bad story of domestic violence.

If I hadn’t moved here, I wouldn’t have gotten to do all the things that I’m doing now and I would have never gotten the help to move forward.”

— with Israel Sanchez and Michelle De La Isla.

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