As a child in Nigeria, Rose Aghahowa often draped make-believe stethoscopes around her neck and pretended she was a doctor. It was her lifelong dream, but two battles with cancer and an abusive relationship threatened to derail her pursuit of education.
Even though she had every reason to quit, it simply was not an option for her.
Now 58, she couldn’t shake her dream of becoming a doctor. A decade since her battle with cancer, Aghahowa is in remission and pursuing a Doctor of Health Administration degree at University of Phoenix. She now works as the clinical director of Wellness & Recovery Center, which serves those with mental illness, including some who are homeless, in Sacramento County. In her spare time, she studies for her doctoral degree.
Aghahowa knows that she will not be the kind of doctor who practices medicine like she had dreamed of as a child, but she is proud to have fought to one day have “doctor” by her name. She hopes to encourage others to never give up in pursuit of their dreams.
“One morning, I just got up and said ‘No! I want to be a doctor,’” she said. “No matter the challenges of life, do not give up.
‘She can move mountains’
An immigrant, single mother with two daughters — one with special needs — Aghahowa was in her late 20s when she came to the United States in 1989 to live with her brothers in Los Angeles. She had already spent a decade in the Nigerian military, and had earned a bachelor’s degree in public health.
She had hoped for more opportunities in this country, but instead found herself married to a man she said was abusive and wouldn’t work. By the early 2000s, she had endured three miscarriages and had become so depressed she was suicidal.
A phone call to a friend saved her life. The friend rushed to her home and persuaded Aghahowa that it was time for her and her two young daughters to leave.
After several years as a single mother trying to support a family and grappling with her daughter’s intellectual disabilities —she is still mostly non-verbal at age 22 — Aghahowa took her brother’s advice and enrolled at University of Phoenix. He’d earned a master’s degree in accounting at UOPX, and recommended the school.
In her role, Aghahowa continues to press forward to accomplish her goals by sheer will. She survived kidney cancer while earning her bachelor’s degree and underwent chemo to kill breast cancer while she studied for her master’s degree in counseling at the Sacramento Campus. The treatments had left her fingertips numb and unable to type to the point that Aghahowa had to dictate her papers to her friend, April Tate, who was in the same program.