Conquering a Cancer Diagnosis with Creativity
In May 2021, Joel Estolano graduated high school with the desire to start working and earning a paycheck. His father has a career in heavy equipment operation and owns a backhoe, which allowed Joel to gain some experience in the heavy equipment field. It felt like a natural employment path for him, but his mother advised him the work can be inconsistent. She pushed him to seek out employment that would teach him additional skills he could hone and build upon.
A few years prior to his graduation, looking for work wasn’t even on Joel’s radar because he was dealing with something much more significant. Just before his 16th birthday, Joel was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that develops in white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the immune system. Over the next three years, Joel underwent a tough course of chemotherapy and found himself in a constant state of fatigue.
However, he took this “spare time” (as he calls it) and used it to expand upon his already flourishing art skills. “In a way, going through what I went through, it helped me thrive. I drew all the time,” he says, “I took my liberties, and I took it upon myself to expand.” Joel began painting, drawing, and designing more than he ever had before. His passion grew while his skill evolved and progressed. Though his physical strength was low due to treatments, he found mental strength in drawing and painting, saying “it felt more like an open door than a negative thought.”
Fortunately, the treatments were successful in fighting his cancer and Joel was able to apply this open-door mentality to his new journey: the path to employment. Joel and his mom learned about Ticket to Work, a career development program that Joel was eligible for through his social security benefits. When they visited Beacon Group, they learned that Joel was also eligible for the Work Adjustment Training Program.
In August, Joel started working at Beacon Secure, Beacon Group’s confidential document shredding service, as part of the Work Adjustment Training program. The program hones individual’s soft skills so that they are more likely to be successful with future work opportunities.
At Beacon Secure, Joel works with Job Coach David Kunze in the office, scheduling drivers’ routes, entering orders into the computer system and sending information to customers. “No matter what task we throw at him, he achieves it,” says Beacon Secure Manager Tabatha Dow, “He’s willing to help the job coaches, the drivers, the other clients.”
“One of the things I was telling him when he first came into the program was if you’re willing to go above and beyond your job description then you’re going to go far. Employers are going to see that. He’s shown that to us since day one,” Kunze says. Joel has taken this advice to heart. While he admits that he does not see himself in this industry in the long term, he’s taking his job seriously and following his mother’s advice to learn and build upon the skills that will provide steady work in the future.
Joel’s favorite part of the job is the people he works with, “the good company.” He puts in the effort to make conversation with everyone and create a bond. Tabatha and David say this warmth and outreach has made a difference in their whole operation. Despite August being one of the busiest and more stressful months in Beacon Secure, Joel’s camaraderie has made the whole team a better, happier, and more successful unit.
Due to his success in the WAT program at Beacon Secure, Joel recently accepted a job coach position at Beacon Group. While he is still figuring out his path, Joel hopes that one day he will be able to integrate art into his career. Art is what kept him positive through his cancer treatment and will always be a reminder to find the positive in any situation. This positive and creative outlook has already shown through in his short time in the workforce and will no doubt continue to drive him to reach his goals.