Jeanette M. Acosta, a Tony Patiño Fellow from UC San Francisco’s class of 2016, delivered an inspiring keynote speech at the UC San Francisco Selection Day on August 19, 2017.

Sadly, Jeanette passed away in December of the same year. Her extraordinary and inspiring remarks are below. 

Jeanette inspired UC Hastings to create a Memorial Scholarship in her honor.

Good​ ​evening,​ ​everyone.​ ​First,​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​begin​ ​by​ ​pausing​ ​and​ ​taking​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​of​ ​silence in​ ​memory​ ​and​ ​in​ ​honor​ ​of​ ​the​ ​innocent​ ​lives​ ​lost​ ​at​ ​the​ ​hands​ ​of​ ​hatred​ ​over​ ​the​ ​past several​ ​days​ ​here​ ​at​ ​home​ ​in​ ​Charlottesville​ ​and​ ​abroad​ ​in​ ​Barcelona.

We​ ​are​ ​most​ ​certainly​ ​living​ ​in​ ​a​ ​time​ ​where​ ​we​ ​each​ ​need​ ​to​ ​reflect​ ​on​ ​the​ ​Tony​ ​Patiño Fellowship’s​ ​aspiration​ ​of​ ​being​ ​a​ ​leader​ ​of​ ​mankind​ ​in​ ​all​ ​that​ ​is​ ​honorable,​ ​just​ ​and compassionate​ ​and​ ​we​ ​must​ ​work​ ​even​ ​harder​ ​toward​ ​achieving​ ​this.

This​ ​time​ ​last​ ​year,​ ​I​ ​stood​ ​before​ ​you​ ​expressing​ ​my​ ​gratitude​ ​for​ ​the​ ​support,​ ​guidance and​ ​encouragement​ ​that​ ​I​ ​was​ ​given​ ​as​ ​a​ ​Fellow-Elect​ ​at​ ​Hastings.​ ​Now,​ ​I​ ​stand​ ​before​ ​you a​ ​year​ ​later​ ​to​ ​again​ ​express​ ​my​ ​gratitude​ ​to​ ​the​ ​members​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Board​ ​and​ ​my​ ​broader Patino​ ​Fellowship​ ​community​ ​but​ ​this​ ​time​ ​as​ ​a​ ​Fellow​ ​fighting​ ​cancer.

In​ ​the​ ​invitation​ ​to​ ​speak​ ​this​ ​evening,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​invited​ ​to​ ​address​ ​the​ ​theme​ ​of​ ​leadership and​ ​life​ ​challenges.​ ​The​ ​challenge​ ​that​ ​I​ ​will​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​is​ ​illness.​ ​In​ ​my​ ​case,​ ​Stage​ ​4-A cervical​ ​cancer.

On​ ​December​ ​23,​ ​2016,​ ​a​ ​few​ ​months​ ​into​ ​my​ ​judicial​ ​clerkship,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​diagnosed​ ​with​ ​this cancer.​ ​On​ ​that​ ​day,​ ​my​ ​life​ ​flipped​ ​upside​ ​down.​ ​After​ ​being​ ​diagnosed,​ ​I​ ​began​ ​to​ ​walk up​ ​a​ ​long,​ ​bumpy,​ ​or​ ​since​ ​we​ ​are​ ​in​ ​San​ ​Francisco,​ ​hilly​ ​road​ ​filled​ ​with​ ​aggressive treatments​ ​that​ ​has​ ​included​ ​3​ ​surgeries,​ ​6​ ​rounds​ ​of​ ​chemotherapy,​ ​28​ ​rounds​ ​of​ ​external radiation​ ​and​ ​5​ ​rounds​ ​of​ ​internal​ ​radiation,​ ​which​ ​required​ ​me​ ​to​ ​be​ ​completely immobilized​ ​in​ ​a​ ​hospital​ ​bed​ ​for​ ​3​ ​long​ ​days.

All​ ​of​ ​these​ ​treatments​ ​comprised​ ​what’s​ ​called​ ​“first​ ​line”​ ​treatment.​ ​Unfortunately,​ ​due to​ ​new​ ​bone​ ​lesions​ ​discovered​ ​a​ ​couple​ ​weeks​ ​ago,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​at​ ​a​ ​new​ ​fork​ ​in​ ​the​ ​road​ ​where​ ​I must​ ​embark​ ​on​ ​additional​ ​systemic​ ​treatment,​ ​or​ ​second​ ​line​ ​treatment.

So,​ ​the​ ​challenge​ ​is​ ​clear.​ ​But​ ​the​ ​practice​ ​of​ ​leadership​ ​in​ ​the​ ​face​ ​of​ ​this​ ​challenge​ ​is​ ​less clear.

How​ ​does​ ​one​ ​lead​ ​in​ ​the​ ​face​ ​of​ ​a​ ​cancer?​ ​What​ ​can​ ​leadership​ ​look​ ​like​ ​in​ ​the​ ​context​ ​of a​ ​life-threatening​ ​illness?

When​ ​you​ ​think​ ​of​ ​leadership,​ ​you​ ​likely​ ​think​ ​of​ ​an​ ​individual​ ​or​ ​a​ ​small​ ​team​ ​organizing and​ ​directing​ ​a​ ​larger​ ​group​ ​toward​ ​meeting​ ​a​ ​shared​ ​goal​ ​or​ ​goals​ ​in​ ​the​ ​context​ ​of​ ​a company​ ​or​ ​organization.

In​ ​my​ ​experience​ ​over​ ​the​ ​past​ ​9​ ​months​ ​facing​ ​countless​ ​unknowns​ ​and​ ​invasive treatments​ ​and​ ​reflecting​ ​on​ ​the​ ​writings​ ​of​ ​Ekhart​ ​Tolle,​ ​Marianne​ ​Williamson​ ​and​ ​Ron Heifetz,​ ​I​ ​offer​ ​up​ ​to​ ​you​ ​what​ ​I​ ​think​ ​the​ ​practice​ ​of​ ​leadership​ ​calls​ ​for​ ​in​ ​this​ ​unique health​ ​context.​ ​​ ​Specifically,

  1. ​Leadership​ ​calls​ ​for​ ​purpose​ ​–​ ​having​ ​a​ ​clear​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​purpose.
  2. ​Leadership​ ​calls​ ​for​ ​presence​ ​–​ ​being​ ​fully​ ​present,​ ​fully​ ​accepting​ ​what​ ​is happening​ ​and​ ​being​ ​willing​ ​to​ ​adapt.
  3. And​ ​most​ ​importantly,​ ​leadership​ ​calls​ ​for​ ​partnership​ ​–​ ​engaging​ ​and​ ​trusting others​ ​in​ ​your​ ​effort.


During​ ​the​ ​past​ ​several​ ​months,​ ​I​ ​largely​ ​was​ ​relying​ ​on​ ​default​ ​habits​ ​of​ ​interpreting​ ​and responding​ ​to​ ​events.​ ​I​ ​found​ ​myself​ ​drawing​ ​regularly​ ​from​ ​my​ ​well​ ​of​ ​resilience,​ ​hope, faith,​ ​courage​ ​and​ ​determination.

But​ ​until​ ​more​ ​recently,​ ​I​ ​had​ ​not​ ​taken​ ​the​ ​time​ ​to​ ​fully​ ​reflect​ ​on​ ​what​ ​had​ ​been happening​ ​and​ ​why​ ​I​ ​behaved​ ​in​ ​certain​ ​ways.

Now,​ ​that​ ​I​ ​am​ ​at​ ​the​ ​juncture​ ​of​ ​determining​ ​the​ ​next​ ​treatment,​ ​I​ ​have​ ​realized​ ​how essential​ ​it​ ​is​ ​to​ ​be​ ​clear​ ​on​ ​my​ ​purpose​ ​and​ ​communicate​ ​this​ ​purpose​ ​to​ ​others, particularly​ ​medical​ ​professionals.
My​ ​purpose​ ​in​ ​seeking​ ​treatment​ ​is​ ​to​ ​heal​ ​completely.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​not​ ​interested​ ​in​ ​anything short​ ​of​ ​that.​ ​This​ ​purpose​ ​is​ ​rooted​ ​in​ ​love.​ ​I​ ​value​ ​my​ ​life,​ ​I​ ​love​ ​who​ ​I​ ​am​ ​becoming,​ ​I love​ ​my​ ​family,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​love​ ​what​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​still​ ​do​ ​in​ ​life.​ ​​ ​Being​ ​clear​ ​on​ ​your​ ​purpose​ ​when faced​ ​with​ ​a​ ​major​ ​health​ ​challenge​ ​will​ ​empower​ ​you​ ​as​ ​the​ ​patient​ ​and​ ​enable​ ​you​ ​and your​ ​loved​ ​ones​ ​to​ ​be​ ​your​ ​best​ ​advocate​ ​and​ ​seek​ ​out​ ​the​ ​best​ ​possible​ ​care.​ ​This​ ​past Wednesday,​ ​for​ ​example,​ ​I​ ​met​ ​with​ ​a​ ​new​ ​gynecological​ ​oncologist.​ ​​ ​I​ ​was​ ​seeking​ ​a​ ​third opinion​ ​about​ ​what​ ​I​ ​should​ ​do​ ​next.​ ​Toward​ ​the​ ​end​ ​of​ ​a​ ​long​ ​discussion,​ ​the​ ​doctor​ ​was mentioning​ ​why​ ​some​ ​patients​ ​pursue​ ​aggressive​ ​surgeries,​ ​more​ ​chemotherapy,​ ​or​ ​a clinical​ ​trial​ ​-​ ​the​ ​reasons​ ​he​ ​mentioned​ ​were​ ​to​ ​lessen​ ​pain,​ ​prolong​ ​life.

Because​ ​I​ ​was​ ​clear​ ​on​ ​my​ ​own​ ​purpose,​ ​I​ ​interjected​ ​and​ ​said,​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​be​ ​clear​ ​here​ ​– my​ ​goal​ ​is​ ​to​ ​be​ ​cured.​ ​To​ ​fully​ ​heal.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​determined​ ​to​ ​do​ ​so​ ​and​ ​I​ ​need​ ​your​ ​help.
In​ ​saying​ ​this​ ​to​ ​the​ ​doctor,​ ​my​ ​purpose​ ​was​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​just​ ​mine​ ​but​ ​now​ ​a​ ​shared​ ​one.​ ​He heard​ ​me,​ ​he​ ​appeared​ ​to​ ​understand​ ​and​ ​as​ ​we​ ​said​ ​our​ ​goodbyes,​ ​the​ ​doctor​ ​told​ ​me that​ ​he​ ​would​ ​help​ ​me​ ​beat​ ​this​ ​cancer.


In​ ​addition​ ​to​ ​the​ ​importance​ ​of​ ​purpose​ ​in​ ​the​ ​practice​ ​of​ ​leadership,​ ​I​ ​have​ ​learned firsthand​ ​about​ ​the​ ​importance​ ​of​ ​being​ ​present,​ ​fully​ ​alert,​ ​fully​ ​at​ ​attention,​ ​and​ ​in​ ​turn, willing​ ​to​ ​adapt​ ​to​ ​a​ ​situation.

While​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​it​ ​to​ ​be,​ ​the​ ​practice​ ​of​ ​leadership​ ​in​ ​the​ ​context​ ​of​ ​a​ ​health​ ​challenge​ ​is not​ ​a​ ​perfect,​ ​swift,​ ​upward​ ​trajectory​ ​of​ ​progress​ ​and​ ​meeting​ ​all​ ​identified​ ​goals.

As​ ​much​ ​as​ ​I​ ​have​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​be​ ​in​ ​control​ ​of​ ​this​ ​enormous​ ​battle,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​finally​ ​coming​ ​to terms​ ​with​ ​the​ ​reality​ ​that​ ​I​ ​cannot​ ​control​ ​or​ ​be​ ​ahead​ ​of​ ​every​ ​single​ ​detail.​ ​Such resistance​ ​and​ ​desire​ ​to​ ​control​ ​only​ ​leads​ ​to​ ​unnecessary​ ​suffering.

This​ ​year,​ ​I​ ​have​ ​learned​ ​that​ ​when​ ​it​ ​comes​ ​to​ ​one’s​ ​health,​ ​progress​ ​happens​ ​and setbacks​ ​happen.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​growing​ ​and​ ​evolving​ ​with​ ​each​ ​turn​ ​and​ ​bump​ ​in​ ​the​ ​road.

In​ ​May,​ ​after​ ​concluding​ ​with​ ​systemic​ ​chemotherapy,​ ​I​ ​learned​ ​that​ ​a​ ​new​ ​growth​ ​was found​ ​in​ ​a​ ​bone​ ​and​ ​on​ ​top​ ​of​ ​that​ ​news,​ ​I​ ​learned​ ​that​ ​I​ ​needed​ ​stents​ ​put​ ​into​ ​my ureters.​ ​Upon​ ​hearing​ ​this,​ ​I​ ​nearly​ ​morphed​ ​into​ ​a​ ​puddle​ ​of​ ​tears​ ​before​ ​my​ ​doctor’s eyes.​ ​The​ ​control​ ​that​ ​I​ ​thought​ ​I​ ​had​ ​was​ ​snatched​ ​from​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​felt​ ​blindsided​ ​by​ ​the​ ​news and​ ​struggled​ ​to​ ​adapt.​ ​Taking​ ​a​ ​step​ ​back​ ​and​ ​observing​ ​how​ ​I​ ​reacted,​ ​that​ ​suffering happened​ ​in​ ​part​ ​because​ ​I​ ​was​ ​not​ ​fully​ ​present​ ​when​ ​I​ ​met​ ​with​ ​my​ ​doctor.​ ​​ ​Feeling​ ​like victory​ ​over​ ​the​ ​cancer​ ​was​ ​within​ ​close​ ​reach,​ ​I​ ​sat​ ​in​ ​my​ ​doctor’s​ ​office​ ​with​ ​my​ ​mind somewhere​ ​in​ ​between​ ​thinking​ ​of​ ​the​ ​past,​ ​future​ ​and​ ​present.​ ​​ ​Thoughts​ ​of​ ​the​ ​past focused​ ​on​ ​my​ ​positive​ ​response​ ​thus​ ​far​ ​to​ ​the​ ​chemotherapy​ ​that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​been​ ​receiving​ ​as well​ ​as​ ​my​ ​lifestyle​ ​changes​ ​that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​been​ ​making.​ ​​ ​Thoughts​ ​of​ ​the​ ​future​ ​were​ ​a​ ​loop​ ​of –​ ​“maybe​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​need​ ​radiation,​ ​I​ ​healed​ ​myself,​ ​I​ ​can​ ​go​ ​back​ ​to​ ​work​ ​soon.”​ ​​ ​And​ ​the little​ ​remaining​ ​space​ ​left​ ​in​ ​my​ ​mind​ ​to​ ​think​ ​and​ ​process​ ​was​ ​for​ ​the​ ​present​ ​moment.

While​ ​hope​ ​and​ ​thoughts​ ​of​ ​the​ ​future​ ​are​ ​essential​ ​motivators​ ​in​ ​the​ ​face​ ​of​ ​any adversity,​ ​it​ ​can​ ​blur​ ​and​ ​come​ ​into​ ​conflict​ ​with​ ​being​ ​in​ ​the​ ​here​ ​and​ ​now.

Last​ ​month,​ ​I​ ​again​ ​got​ ​some​ ​mixed​ ​news​ ​that​ ​while​ ​there​ ​is​ ​promising​ ​regression​ ​of tumors,​ ​a​ ​few​ ​new​ ​spots​ ​were​ ​found.​ ​But​ ​this​ ​time,​ ​having​ ​built​ ​on​ ​my​ ​experience​ ​in​ ​May, rather​ ​than​ ​resisting​ ​and​ ​melting​ ​down​ ​on​ ​the​ ​spot,​ ​I​ ​did​ ​my​ ​best​ ​to​ ​be​ ​present​ ​and​ ​adapt. I​ ​processed​ ​the​ ​information,​ ​took​ ​a​ ​deep​ ​breath​ ​and​ ​asked​ ​what​ ​can​ ​be​ ​done.

This​ ​adaptability​ ​combined​ ​with​ ​firm​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​purpose​ ​has​ ​led​ ​to​ ​learning​ ​about​ ​my treatment​ ​options,​ ​seeking​ ​out​ ​different​ ​perspectives​ ​on​ ​these​ ​options,​ ​and​ ​pursuing​ ​the path​ ​that​ ​best​ ​aligns​ ​with​ ​my​ ​purpose.


I’d​ ​like​ ​to​ ​close​ ​now​ ​on​ ​the​ ​topic​ ​of​ ​partnership,​ ​collaboration​ ​and​ ​togetherness.​ ​I​ ​learned fairly​ ​early​ ​on​ ​in​ ​this​ ​battle​ ​that​ ​I​ ​cannot​ ​lead​ ​alone.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​far​ ​too​ ​overwhelming​ ​to​ ​even attempt​ ​to​ ​navigate​ ​and​ ​fight​ ​this​ ​disease​ ​by​ ​oneself.

Identifying​ ​what​ ​I​ ​cannot​ ​do​ ​on​ ​my​ ​own​ ​and​ ​in​ ​turn,​ ​asking​ ​for​ ​and​ ​accepting​ ​help​ ​has been​ ​a​ ​major​ ​challenge​ ​and​ ​learning​ ​area​ ​for​ ​me​ ​this​ ​year.
But​ ​the​ ​outpouring​ ​of​ ​love​ ​and​ ​generous​ ​support​ ​that​ ​I​ ​have​ ​been​ ​blessed​ ​to​ ​receive​ ​from my​ ​family,​ ​especially​ ​my​ ​father​ ​who​ ​is​ ​here​ ​tonight,​ ​Chris,​ ​who​ ​is​ ​also​ ​here​ ​tonight,​ ​our Patiño​ ​Fellowship​ ​community,​ ​and​ ​my​ ​friends,​ ​has​ ​been​ ​truly​ ​unimaginable.

As​ ​challenging​ ​as​ ​this​ ​battle​ ​is,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​stronger​ ​because​ ​of​ ​you​ ​and​ ​your​ ​help.​ ​My​ ​purpose​ ​is clearer.​ ​My​ ​willingness​ ​to​ ​adapt​ ​is​ ​greater.​ ​My​ ​capacity​ ​to​ ​lead​ ​in​ ​the​ ​face​ ​of​ ​this​ ​illness​ ​is fuller​ ​because​ ​I​ ​am​ ​not​ ​alone.

Thank​ ​you.