A reflection of Veronica Gonzales in the Koi Pond at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, Calif., on Sept. 14, 2022. Gonzales, 28, who is a Delta College student, has two children, works three jobs while battling cancer and lost her stepmother in a train accident a week ago. (Harika Maddala/ Bay City News / Catchlight Local)

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A San Joaquin Delta College student battling cancer while being a single mother of two children is getting help from the school after her stepmother died earlier this month.

When Heather Maloy, co-director for the Delta Sierra Adult Education Alliance at Delta College, heard that Veronica Gonzales was a single mother simultaneously working three jobs with low paying wages, she pleaded with the young mother to return back to school and pursue a degree.

The Delta Sierra Adult Education Alliance offers classes and programs to adult learners throughout the San Joaquin Valley in an effort to help non-traditional students reach their educational goals.

“Right away I have this heart for students and this passion, there’s so many services that we have available for our students … So, I linked up with her friend and I said, ‘Let’s help her out, let’s get her on board,'” Maloy said.

Gonzales started at Delta College last month to start her studies to become a psychiatric technician but in the first week of September, she got a phone call from her dad telling her that her stepmother, the only mother she ever really knew since she was 6 years old, had died.

“I just remember both my little sisters in my arms crying for their mom,” Gonzales said. “That wasn’t my biological mom, but that was my mom … she was there for everything.”

Maloy said since she already knew Gonzales’ story, she talked with other faculty members on campus, and they decided to setup a GoFundMe account to help Gonzales pay for the funeral arrangements for her stepmother. The service is set for this weekend.

The account was created Monday with a goal of raising $1,500 and in less than 24 hours had raised more than $1,000.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all, a lot of people have donated $100… like dang you donated $100 to someone you don’t even know,” Gonzales said. “It’s like you’re not just a student here, you’re family.”

Gonzales’ whirlwind of life-changing events began in May 2021 when she took time off work to make a visit to the doctors because she hadn’t been feeling well.

“Being at work and then having to throw up and you got to tell the customer, ‘I’ll be right back’ or start throwing up in front of them…it’s kind of nasty,” Gonzales said. “It’s been rough.”

Veronica Gonzales at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, Calif., on Sept. 14, 2022. (Harika Maddala/ Bay City News / Catchlight Local)

A Pap smear exam followed by a biopsy revealed that she had stage 1 cervical cancer.

She underwent surgery last year and has been receiving cancer treatment while she waits to hear if the surgery was successful.

Gonzales said trying to work and go to school recently has been difficult, not only because of the loss of her loved one, but also because the catalytic converter of her vehicle was stolen, leaving her without transportation.

“Somebody stole the tags off my car, somebody broke my window, so I fixed everything,” Gonzales said. “Then when I go to drive my car, they stole my catalytic converter.”

Despite Gonzales’ medical status, caring for her two children, working several jobs to keep food on the table and paying for bills, she says she still strives to finish college to make a better life for her and her kids.

“Just growing up in the lifestyle that I did … I want to give my kids something better than what I had,” Gonzales said. “I want to own a home by the age of 35, I want to have a career so that way I’m not working three jobs and trying to put food on the table and struggling.”

The link to the GoFundMe account can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/darte-student-veronica-gonzalez-and-family.

Victoria Franco is a reporter based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. She is a Report for America corps member.