By Lesley Barry
Photos by Chris Roussakis

In December 2016, third-year Journalism student Mateo Peralta didn’t have time to get sick.

Vice-president of the Carleton Journalism Society, part-time social media assistant at the Student Experience Office, and, best of all, a residence fellow looking after the well-being of the 50 first-year students on his floor, Peralta was also juggling his studies and social life.

Happy and busy, he hadn’t paid much attention to the bizarre nosebleeds, fatigue and frequent colds afflicting him.

But just before Christmas a heavier cold took hold. His mom and sister persuaded him to see the family doctor, and the next day after tests, he received a shattering diagnosis.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

“I just went numb,” Peralta recalls.

It was highly curable, but the cure was a punishing two-year regime of chemotherapy and radiation that started immediately. Overnight Peralta changed from busy student to cancer patient.

Leukemia Survivor Mateo Peralta Gets Degree

Persevering Through Cancer Recovery

Over the next few months, as he experienced hair loss, weight loss, a ballooning face and crippling fatigue, he descended into a deep depression. He credits his mother, who, luckily, lives in Ottawa, and “incredibly supportive friends and family” for his turnaround.

When school resumed in September, Peralta’s doctors recommended a maximum of two courses. Instead, alongside his regular chemo infusions, Peralta took on a full course load, became fourth-year rep to the Journalism Society, and worked as a residence community developer.

“It was a little crazy,” he confesses.

“In the winter and spring I had spent a lot of time on online cancer forums, reading stories of students who didn’t go back to university. I was terrified of missing my chance, so I just pushed myself.”

He persevered through anxieties about his physical appearance and his ability to reconnect with peers. An agenda helped with “chemo brain,” a debilitating brain fog that inhibits memory and cognitive function. He stresses, though, that he didn’t do it alone.

“I had amazing support and encouragement from residence life staff and the journalism faculty from my diagnosis on. Many of my professors visited me at the hospital, and they coordinated supporting me when I returned to school as well.”

Leukemia Survivor Mateo Peralta Gets Degree

Taking Another Step Forward

By the start of his final year, Peralta was ready for another step forward.

“In my first 18 months of treatment I refused to identify with the cancer community. But this year I realized I was finally in a place where I could give back.”

Typically for Peralta, giving back meant joining a community: Carleton’s Relay for Life, as a member of the organizing committee and as opening speaker at the March event.

“It was an incredible group to be part of, and one of the highlights of my years at Carleton,” he recalls. “There’s so much diversity among the students. It was really empowering to work together.”

He also wrote his own story, an unflinching 16,000-word account of his physical and emotional journey, which he posted on his blog on the second anniversary of his diagnosis. “I wanted to provide others with the story I wish I could have read online when I was very sick and scared in hospital: a story of recovery and taking back the life you think you’ve lost.”

Now, he’s facing forward again. This summer he begins a two-year fellowship with Venture for Canada, an organization that trains people from a variety of disciplines on the start-up business scene and entrepreneurship.

“I want to explore how entrepreneurial tech ideas and media-related start-ups can work in journalism,” he says.

“The industry is in flux, but the need to challenge the systems in place and bring out new ideas isn’t changing.

“Thinking about geopolitics and climate change, it feels like a pivotal time to be graduating. I’m so excited to be part of what happens next.”

Spring Convocation is taking place from Monday, June 10 until Friday, June 14. The ceremonies will be broadcast online via live streaming at

Leukemia Survivor Mateo Peralta Gets Degree

Friday, May 31, 2019 in ,
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