Local mom, daughter earn degrees together

Local mom, daughter earn degrees together

CUMBERLAND - As the sun peeked through the ominous cloud cover Saturday morning, Sharon and Kaitlyn Vicente sat side by side among hundreds of other Rhode Island College graduates patiently waiting to receive the diplomas they had so earnestly worked for.

The day was especially important for Sharon, who beat cancer six years ago, and although she felt she was taking away the spotlight from her daughter, Kaitlyn said she couldn't be prouder.

"It's way more impressive that she's graduating and getting her degree than kids around my age," Kaitlyn said. "But to have my mother be the one that has accomplished something so big that she's been working toward as long as I've been around is way more spectacular."

Sharon was diagnosed in September of 2008 with Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer.

After removing the tumor, the doctors performed a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction surgery.

"Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong," she said. "I had 11 surgeries, so it was a long haul."

Kaitlyn, who started RIC the same day her mother was diagnosed, said she received the phone call while walking to her first class.

"It was rough that first semester, and I took the second one off and it postponed things," she said. "But it was for the better."

The year Kaitlyn was originally to graduate from RIC with a degree in mass communications, she entered into the art department and decided to declare a minor in graphic design.

At the same time, Sharon was "plugging away" and determined to get her bachelor's degree in psychology, only taking one semester off from school despite all the surgeries she underwent.

Along with being a student, a mother and a full-time employee, Sharon became an active member of the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation.

She said she heard about the organization on the radio, but only decided to attend an event after her son asked her to.

Everybody she met was "incredible," she said, and "it was nice to feel normal and that's how I felt there."

Soon after, Sharon co-founded the Shades of Pink fundraiser to benefit the foundation.

Every year, she said, they host an event attended by more than 300 people. That event has raised $50,000 toward the foundation throughout the years.

Kaitlyn also got involved with the foundation after creating a video for her communications class.

She made a video about the importance of doing a breast self-exam.

"I had some of the survivors participate and I shot it at their foundation, and they were all for it," she said. "They kept an eye on me and they eventually introduced me to the owner of Jai Communications Group."

The communications company handles the foundation's public relations and Kaitlyn secured a full-time position there after finishing her internship.

Kaitlyn said the foundation has been a great organization to work alongside, and both she and her mother greatly enjoy participating in their events, including the Flames of Hope walk and run series.

"The foundation focuses on the emotional and physical well being, but they do have some classes where you can talk about your journey, because there are people who had breast cancer 30 years ago that have never talked about it," she said.

Sharon said she is in the process of applying to the psychology graduate program at RIC and hopes to one day become a teacher.