As a single mother of three, living paycheck-to-paycheck was a way of life. Stephanie became the sole parent of her family in 2014, when her husband was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison for beating her. For years, the beatings had gone unreported, as he repeatedly threatened to kill her and their son if she reported the abuse, even going so far as to destroy her cell phone when she tried to call for help. After the conviction and subsequent incarceration, Stephanie moved from Modesto to a six-month housing program in Sacramento, and when that ended, she entered Saint John’s as a respite client for 30 days. When her housing was approved, she moved out.
Fast forward a few years, and in 2016 Stephanie suffered an injury and had to take two weeks off of work; she got hopelessly behind on rent and, despite her best efforts, after spending months trying to catch up, her struggle ended in eviction. Stephanie and her children became homeless, once again.
In October 2017, Stephanie re-entered Saint John’s with her youngest son, Sammy, now eight. By this time, her two older daughters, Desirae, now 24, and Selena, now 20, had moved out and were living on their own. This time, she knew she needed to stay longer to make real and lasting change.
“Saint John’s has helped me so much,” reflects Stephanie. “I’ve learned to be patient, to pick and choose my battles, and I’ve learned how to be more self-sufficient.”
Among many other things, Saint John’s helped Stephanie to seek and secure a divorce from the husband that brought so much violence and turmoil to their family. While she worked on creating a better life for herself and her family, unfortunately her woes didn’t end there. After nearly a year at Saint John’s and seemingly on a path to a new beginning, life tossed Stephanie yet another curve ball: in October of 2018, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was at Plates getting ready for a Guest Chef Dinner when I got the call from my doctor’s office,” remembers Stephanie. “This was the first and only time I have cried throughout my journey, mostly because I knew I had to tell my girls. That was the hardest part for me. They cried too, but they were also my strength. With my daughters and my faith in God by my side, I knew it would be okay.”
Stephanie had a lumpectomy on December 3, followed by six weeks of radiation, followed by chemotherapy that left her fatigued and with a burning sensation on her skin. As if she needed to be tested further, her son Sammy was then diagnosed with ADHD. “At first, they thought he was just having behavioral issues due to my cancer diagnosis,” comments Stephanie. “I really struggled with whether or not to put him on the meds they were recommending. I didn’t want to give him drugs that would alter his mind – I wanted him to be able to be Sammy.”
If there was anyone that needed an upswing on the roller coaster of life, it was Stephanie, and low and behold, she got it — in spades. In March, she was declared cancer-free, Sammy’s behavior has improved dramatically since being on medication (and his is still Sammy!), and two weeks ago, Stephanie welcomed her first grandchild, Estella May, born to daughter Selena. She expects to be cleared by her doctor soon to return to work at Umai Hot Dogs.
“My sisters here have become my family,” notes Stephanie. “This is so much more than a program. I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for Saint John’s. I’ve been approved for housing, but in some ways, I don’t want to leave – it’s safe. It’s comfortable. But I know I will always keep in touch.”
By Sue Cawdrey
Grants & Communications Manager
Saint John’s Program for Real Change