Cancer. It's a word often synonymous with fear and sadness. But despite all the terrible things that it is, it doesn't have to be an excuse.
AIU alumnus Jeff Walters is living—and fighting—proof of that. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which developed into stage IV metastatic bone cancer, but he doesn't let it slow him down. He recently completed his Bachelor of Business Administration with a specialization in Management from AIU Online, earning the status of student speaker at the AIU commencement ceremony in Florida. Now, he's starting his own business. "If I'm not dead, I have to continue. I have to keep moving forward, making a living for my family," he said.
As a single father of four boys, Walters says they were his main motivation for pursuing his degree. "I needed to accomplish it so my children could see it—never giving up despite any challenges. If they see me go get my degree, they know they can," he said. "Education is a key factor in life. Without education, you can't do anything."
Walters has certainly overcome his share of challenges, most of which arrived on a single day: Aug. 29, 2014. "It was my last day of work, since my company went bankrupt. I had just gotten the news that the cancer had metastasized when I learned that the school I was attending also closed." (Walters had been attending school through his employer, a college where he served as radiology program director and lead instructor in radiology and X-ray.)
He was without a job and without a school. That's when AIU stepped in. "They gave us options of different schools to pursue from [my former school], and AIU was one of them." It was thanks to his admissions advisor, Adan Salinas, that he decided to finish his degree with AIU Online, Walters says. "Adan was different than the other [advisors from different universities] that I spoke to. Other schools tried to coerce you to just sign; he was different. He didn't come off as 'Sign this, do this,'" said Walters. "AIU was not just an educational facility but an extended family who cared about its students."
Attending school online afforded Walters the opportunity to be a single father and pursue his degree. "I was undergoing treatment from September through November. I really needed an online school. Attending online helped me to keep everything together in my life."
Amid everything he was dealing with, Walters said adhering to a routine is vital, not only for himself but for his children. "I make sure they study and stay on track. They saw how dedicated and focused I was. When they studied, I studied. ... You have to have a standard routine and balance. They know if I'm not dead or in the hospital, I'm going to stick to a routine."
On June 12, 2015, Walters was able to share his story with AIU graduates in Florida as the student speaker at commencement. "It doesn't matter what you try to pursue; when you're in pursuit, so many things will try and drag you away and prevent you from finishing. Everyone hits this at some point. My speech was based off moving forward.
"Change is one of the big fears that restricts people and hinders them from moving forward. When you make choices—which you will—you'll take chances—and you will. Do those two things, and it's certain you'll watch change happen. When people say they're scared of change, I tell them to look at their youth. We were all babies at one point, now we're adults. We had to change our mindset, goals and dreams—all of it. Where we are now, we wouldn't get to this point without change. Change is a benefit in advancing your life."
Now Walters is focusing his energy on his career. As his cancer has labeled him as "disabled," many companies are reluctant to hire him; yet he didn't let this be a deterrent. Rather, he saw it as another opportunity to move forward, this time to start a business. His business partner John Hill is a former colleague who also chose to attend AIU Online, and both of them are in the medical field: Walters has his radiologic technologist license through the State of Florida and a national radiology license through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. Their business, EZED, provides continuing education services for those in the medical field. "Right now we offer CPR courses, where we go to clients so they can renew or recertify," said Walters. They'll soon also be offering HIV courses, as this training is often a requirement for medical professionals. "The business allows us to bring both the education and medical fields together."
While the business is helping Walters and his business partner on their career paths, it's also building a foundation for their sons. "I have four boys. He has three small boys. We want to leave a legacy for our children, so they have a foundation to build upon ... and the only way for them to get it is to finish college."
To help gain more knowledge that can help ensure their business stays afloat, Walters is currently pursuing his Master of Business Administration degree from AIU Online. "I see other businesses I used to go to closed and abandoned. We want to ensure we know every aspect of business and how to maintain our business."
For Walters, there is no limit to the amount of knowledge you can receive, and he encourages everyone to take chances to realize their potential. "I give the same advice an old man gave me many years ago, which has helped me continue to move forward, even now," said Walters. "He said, 'Boy, there are only two things you'll ever truly own. One, your words and actions are the pedestal you put yourself upon and affect how others perceive you. Two, knowledge from education is the only thing that will get you ahead in life. ... You can't move forward without an education.'"
Walters is currently taking the final treatment option offered for his cancer. "I am also fighting this naturally with all organic and natural foods, as well as keeping my faith and trust in God," he said. "I am feeling great every day. I refuse to die in my living so I stay positive ... with the attitude that I can make it through the day and continue to move forward in life. I smile, stay happy and encourage myself daily, so every day is a good day as long as I wake up."
Looking for more inspiration from AIU graduates? Read these alumni success stories.