Cabot Supports Beloved Clerk

STUDENT SUPPORT
Gregory A. Elinson

Students in Cabot House have begun a fundraising campaign for MARIA R. GUERRERO, circulating e-mails for the clerk at the Quad's convenience store who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

When Maria R. Guerrero opened up shop at Celeris on Sunday, students dropped by in a steady stream to wish her well.

The clerk at the Quad’s convenience store, which opened last fall and is operated by Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS), was glad to be back.

Guerrero was diagnosed with cancer last month, and as word of her condition has spread throughout the College over the past weeks, Cabot House residents have rallied around one of the most beloved members of their House staff.

Guerrero had been away from Celeris for the past two weeks, recovering from a biopsy of a tumor in her jaw—and her absence had not gone unnoticed by students and tutors.

Sitting at home, she says, she missed the students and asked her doctor for permission to return to work ahead of her recovery schedule. So on Sunday, she came back for her usual 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift and received the company she had longed for.

And since that day Guerrero has continued her regular duties. She has been working at Celeris since she came to Harvard in August after working a series of fast-food and retail jobs. Guerrero says she loves the environment here.

“The students are as respectful and sweet people as I can imagine,” she says.

House Master James H. Ware held a meeting on Wednesday night, attended by about 20 students and House affiliates, to discuss ways to help Guerrero, who is the single mother of two young girls.

In two weeks Guerrero will undergo an operation to remove the malignant tumor from her jaw before it reaches her eye and brain.

After the surgery, she will need six months to undergo chemotherapy and recover fully from the illness.

Guerrero has applied for short-term disability compensation through her Harvard health plan. If she obtains the compensation, the plan will compensate her for 75 percent of her income while she is recovering, according to Judith Della Barba, director of human resources at HUDS.

E-mails have circulated on numerous campus groups’ lists informing the student body of Guerrero’s situation and of the fundraising efforts Cabot House is trying to organize.

The e-mails also ask that anyone who is fluent in Spanish and will be in Boston for the summer consider accompanying Guerrero to some doctor’s visits, since she is not entirely fluent in English and often finds her doctor’s explanations unclear.

Already Adam C. Urato ’91-’92, a physician and pre-med tutor in Cabot House who is fluent in Spanish, has touched base with Guerrero’s doctors from time to time to clarify her concerns.

Guerrero left a middle-class secretarial career in the city of Santatecla, El Salvador, and came to the United States in the hopes that her daughters would have greater opportunities here.

In El Salvador, she owned her own house, but now she lives in an apartment in Allston—and to make ends meet after she became ill, she has had to rent out some of the rooms, so she and her daughters now share a single room.

Guerrero says she was initially reluctant to tell her daughters about the cancer, fearing that they would worry. But her doctors advised her to tell them. Given the increasing role the disease and treatment would play in her life, they said, concealing her illness would become more and more difficult.

Guerrero says that since she has told her daughters about her condition, her family has gotten closer. Guerrero says she is lucky to have such understanding children and notes that her oldest, 15-year-old Ericka, is doing her part to help lighten the financial burden by working 16 hours a week at an Allston McDonald’s.

“I know my mom will get through this,” says Karen, who is 10. “She is strong and does not deserve anything bad to happen to her.”

—Staff writer Maria S. Pedroza can be reached at mpedroza@fas.harvard.edu.