Director of SSS dedicates marathon to student battling cancer


by Ashley Smith, Editor-in-Chief

Simpson College Student Support Services students and staff are supporting junior Vicente Argueta, who was diagnosed with lymphoma last week.

SSS is a federally funded TRIO program that works with first-generation, limited-income and disabled students.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure our students graduate,” said Marzia Corni-Benson, director of SSS. “We offer all kinds of support. We identify the areas where they might need support. For some students it may be study skills, for students who are strong academically, it might be more financial literacy.”

Corni-Benson is Argueta’s adviser in the program, and she has worked with him since his first year at Simpson.

She said Argueta is a strong student academically, and he always has a positive attitude.

“He’s able to balance the social with what he needs to do to stay on track academically,” Corni-Benson said. “For him to be away from family was really hard because his family is very large and very close. So, first of all, to take the step to go to college and then to be this far away really meant that he had to stick to his goals and make good progress.”

A week before hearing about Argueta’s diagnosis, Corni-Benson was set to run the Boston Marathon with a friend.

“You always get stressed out and think about how hard the marathon is going to be, and after a while, your legs start hurting. And so I was in the car thinking about that, and I just texted Vicente, and he was giving me the daily update,” Corni-Benson said.

With Argueta in mind, she decided that even though the race would be difficult, at least she had the ability to run it.

“I just thought to myself, ‘It doesn’t really matter how much my legs will be hurting, even if it’s mile 20. I could be in a lot of pain, but the fact of the matter is my legs are usable. I can move. I can run,’” Corni-Benson said.

At that moment, she decided to dedicate her race to Argueta. She met with friends who were running different marathons in the same weekend and told them his story. They all decided to dedicate their races to him, as well.

They came up with the hashtag #4Vicente, and wrote it on their legs for the races.

“It helped us to think that you’re not just doing it just because, and to think that we could certainly do that because this is someone that really couldn’t do it if he wanted to. And he seemed to appreciate it when I told him,” Corni-Benson said.

Corni-Benson was heartbroken to find out last Thursday that Argueta had been diagnosed with lymphoma.

“I kept on hoping until the end. So he had this 50/50 chance that he had an infection, or it might be cancer, so really until the end, I kept on hoping that because he had so many physicians looking at it that maybe there was a chance that it would be something else. But it was pretty heartbreaking,” she said.

One of her first concerns was how he was going to get the medical care he needed, as she understood the financial struggle of the families of first-generation students.

“Being from a lower-income family, whatever treatment was needed was something that, even with insurance the out of pocket portion is going to be a challenge, and I think that would be for any family,” Corni-Benson said.

She approached junior Kelsey Walkup about organizing a fundraiser for Argueta to help alleviate some of the financial stress that comes with being diagnosed with cancer.

Walkup, an SSS student, knows the struggle of being a first-generation student and having someone close being diagnosed with cancer.

“Last year, my grandma lost her battle with several different types of cancer,” Walkup said. “It just kind of hit close to home that I wanted to help this family out with all of the medical expenses that come with it.”

Corni-Benson and Walkup came up with the idea to do a free will donation fundraiser for Argueta.

“We brain stormed and decided to do the ribbons and asked for free will donations because if people are willing to do free will donations, they’re more willing to give more money than pay a dollar for a ribbon,” Walkup said.

Supporting Argueta is not just helping him fight cancer. It’s also paving the way for other first-generation students, Corni-Benson said.

“So every time we can make it possible for a first-generation student to complete his or her education, we’re actually changing the future of families and their families later on. So even though it’s such a little thing, somebody’s potentially just giving $5, but that $5 has long reaching effects that really trickle down,” Corni-Benson said.

Corni-Benson said that Argueta is being positive about his diagnosis and has plans for when he returns to Simpson.

“He wants to be back here so when we text back and forth, it’s never if I’m back, it’s always when I’m back. I’ll be doing this and this and this, so clearly he intends to come back,” Corni-Benson said.

She also said he misses Simpson family and friends.

“The fact that this place is really a place he feels connected to,” Corni-Benson said. “All through this, every picture he sends, he’s smiling and saying, ‘I’m thinking positively and being strong.’ You know he’s missing (Simpson), not just because he’s stuck in the hospital. He’s missing the place and the people.”

SSS will have a booth in Kent Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., accepting donations and giving out ribbons for Argueta.

Argueta also has a GoFundMe page at for those who can’t make it.