[ Skip Main Nav ]

Phoenix Forward magazine

Business student is undeterred by illness

Aimee Michon

Nothing, it would appear, can stop Aimee Michon.

The 34-year-old University of Phoenix student has weathered a hurricane, a tornado, family illness and debilitating personal health, yet continues to work toward her bachelor’s degree in the business management program at the University of Phoenix Boston Campus.

“There’s a long list of things I can’t do anymore,” says Michon, who lives in Chicopee, Massachusetts. “I can’t drive, I can’t go to the movies, I can’t read for very long without getting a headache. But school I can do. And so it’s become the most important thing in my life right now.”

In a way, Michon is amused by this turn of events. “I always hated school,” she admits, “but without it these days, my life would be about loss and sadness and this disease, and I’m not going to let those things take over what’s left of my life.”

Michon was diagnosed with idiopathic intracranial hypertension in late 2009. “I went to the optometrist for new glasses,” she recalls, “and he rushed me to the emergency room at the nearest hospital.”

The disease, for which there’s no cure, causes pressure around the brain and increases the manufacture of spinal fluid. Michon undergoes spinal taps, as needed, to drain the excess fluid and ease her pain. But the symptoms, which include blurred vision, made it impossible for Michon to continue her job at a large banking firm. So she headed back to school.

There’s a long list of things I can’t do anymore. … But school I can do.

Because she can only read for a few minutes at a time, Michon takes longer than usual to complete coursework. The stress of the disease also has exacerbated her asthma, so she’s hooked up to a portable oxygen machine around the clock.

“My disease took over my entire life,” she says, “and so it’s been really important to me to keep up with my schoolwork. I needed something I could control, especially when all the really bad stuff started happening.”

That “really bad stuff” would have toppled most people. In June 2011, western Massachusetts was struck by a trio of tornadoes that ravaged much of the state and left Michon without electricity for more than a week.

“I went to places outside the city that still had power so I could study,” she remembers. “And then the hurricane struck,” she adds, referring to Hurricane Irene, which tore through the East Coast in August 2011.

The devastation once again left Michon without electricity or online service for nearly a week, and she couldn’t keep up with her assignments. She studied independently until she could resume online courses.

“People kept asking, ‘Why are you working so hard?’” says Michon, who hopes to complete her degree later this year. “It’s important that my life is about something more than just being sick.”

She’s persevered, maintaining a 4.00 GPA despite other ongoing personal challenges. When her father was diagnosed earlier this year with stage 4 colon cancer, she took over his care.

“Schoolwork has become a kind of getaway for me,” she says, chuckling. “I’m not sure how I’ll apply my degree, but if I can’t complete it by taking the route I had planned, I’ll just have to invent another route.”

Interested in furthering your education?