We will all go through hard times in our lives. Some of us will suffer more than others, but it is through these adverse situations that our characters are built, and we realize what we are made of. Everyone has a story, and the stories of the three dynamic ladies you are about to meet are both heart-wrenching and uplifting. From their grief, their hardships, and their challenges, you’ll see grit, perseverance, and determination that will inspire you. Through their courage, the world has become a better place for those individuals whose lives they have each touched and improved.
Angela Preciado Alanis
From family tragedy to successful executive
Growing up in Southern California was tumultuous and often uncertain for Angela Preciado Alanis. Neither of her parents graduated from high school, so they worked odd jobs to make ends meet. Their life was chaotic, often having nowhere to live, crashing with family members, or staying in pay-by-the-week motels. Wherever they were living; it was Angela’s father that instilled in her resilience and the idea that one day, she would become successful and live better than they did.
She describes her parents with pride and states that her dad would always say, “Angela, I don’t know karate, but I know crazy,” quoting an old James Brown song.
Angela was a good student, and her father made sure that she, and her sister, never missed school. He placed a very strong emphasis on education for his daughters, and they hid their circumstances well from friends and teachers, never letting on that the family’s home life was so unstable.
She recalls how resourceful her dad was when she talks about how she and her sister would sell pickles on Venice Beach to make extra money. It taught them to be creative and how to talk to anyone, and she recalls how proud her parents were of them both. She remarks that “Not everyone gets to experience the love that our family had for one another in such an unstable environment, but with my father’s positive reinforcement and my mother’s perseverance, they made me feel that I could do anything.”
When she was fourteen years old, Angela and her family moved to San Antonio, where she attended Kennedy High School. She worked full time at the Greyhound bus station while going to school to contribute to the family’s economy. Just as she began to imagine her future, tragedy struck her senior year, when her father was brutally murdered by a drunken co-worker one night. This devastated Angela, her sister, and her mother, but instead of being allowed to grieve as they tried to rebuild their lives, she found herself taking care of everyone else and working even harder to make up for her father’s lost income.
Luckily, Angela has always been surrounded by people who saw something special in her and encouraged her to do more. She was hired by USAA to work in their frontline call center, where she excelled at customer service, ultimately leading to many promotions and allowing her to qualify for the company’s tuition reimbursement program. She graduated with a degree in Organizational Development from the University of the Incarnate Word, and then went on to earn her MBA.
She feels that her success has been due to mentorship, and she strives to give back to those coming up through the ranks by no longer hiding behind her painful past, but by telling her story and focusing on “removing the camouflage,” as she calls it. She also attributes her 22 years of success with USAA to being a part of an organization that fosters a culture of support and positive feedback.
Angela states, “I always tried to hide who I was and what we were going through, but I realized that my career began to flourish when I opened up. USAA was instrumental in shaping who I am today by embracing my story and my talents.”
Today, Angela is the Assistant Vice President of the Bank Contact Center at USAA and is the proud mother to her son Adrian, 11, and twin 4-year-olds, Karina and Matteo. She works hard to make sure that she can one day show her daughter that women can become successful with hard work, discipline, and love. She has become an inspiration to young professionals and those who hear her story, just as her dad inspired her with his encouragement, and her mom inspired with her resilience.
Angela is very driven, but never loses sight of her goals. She states that “Every day you wake up, you have the opportunity to contribute to your future, regardless of where you might be today.”
From cancer survivor to cancer patient care giver
They say that love is the most powerful force in the universe. It can lift us up, and it can break our hearts. For one amazing San Antonio lady, however, it was a high school love turned forever love that helped her get through some tough times and shape her into the dynamic and caring individual that she is today.
Deanna Schneider had her future set as a senior at MacArthur High School. She was a high-ranking student and had been awarded a scholarship to St. Mary’s University. She was ready to embark upon her college career when her boyfriend, Mike, announced that he had joined the Air Force. Deanna put university life on hold and moved to Charleston to be with Mike, where she continued her educational path to become a nurse. However, she was sidetracked when doctors discovered that she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, so she decided to move back home to San Antonio with her family to undergo chemo.
It was between her fourth and fifth chemo treatments that Mike and Deanna decided it would be a great time to get married. Deanna remembers with a smile, “I had a great wig, and the steroids had made my face fill out.” She continued to go to school at San Antonio College, and once she received a clean bill of health, she rejoined Mike in Charleston, where she worked in a bone marrow transplant unit until Mike finished his six-year enlistment commitment.
When he was discharged in 1997, they moved back to San Antonio to start a family and a new career. Deanna came across an ad to work in the newly established Bone Marrow Transplant unit at the San Antonio V.A. Hospital, and she is still one of the most beloved nurses in the unit today. As her career took off, their family began to grow as well. Their daughter, Michaela, was born in 1998, and since then, Charlie, now 14, and Rebekah, now 11, have also joined the family.
When Rebekah was a toddler, Deanna started to feel intense pains in her right arm, and daily activities became very taxing. She ignored the pain and pushed through it, and when she finally did seek medical treatment, she was misdiagnosed, even undergoing two different surgeries. She eventually sought another opinion from Dr. William “Chris” Pederson, a hand and arm specialist, who discovered that the pain she was experiencing was due to synovial sarcoma, a rare form of soft tissue cancer. Under the care of Dr. Pederson and Dr. Rajiv Rajani, an outstanding musculoskeletal oncologist, Deanna once again endured five weeks of radiation therapy before eventually being labeled as “cancer free” once again.
A bright and soft-spoken lady, Deanna is a driven woman with a heart of gold, and she refuses to let life’s obstacles hold her down. In fact, with Dr. Rajani’s permission, she even ran and finished, the Rock n’ Roll half marathon one week after completing her radiation treatment in 2014. Last year marked five years that Deanna has been cancer-free, and she glows when she tells that Dr. Rajani proudly proclaimed that, “We will now grow old together.”
She continues to be an advocate, a shoulder to lean on, and a real-life example that cancer doesn’t always win for her bone marrow transplant patients. She says, “I see life as an infinite number of variables, but I feel that God has put me here to put patients at ease and help them navigate the terrifying process that they are going through.”
Deanna lights up when she talks about her husband, and she was incredibly humbled when she found out that he had nominated her for this feature. She doesn’t see herself as extraordinary, but it is evident that she is, and she wants to give back to those around her. She closes a conversation about herself by stating, “I live a charmed life. It is my faith in God that has led me here, and I want to help as many of our veterans as I can find faith and hope that they too can beat cancer and go on to live full lives.”
From great loss to leading the lost
“Sixty-three days is all it took for my life to turn completely upside down. It’s the number of days that passed between the death of my father, and the death of my husband. In just over two months, I became a fatherless widow and a single mother, and the grief was overwhelming.”
Esther Pipoly had just moved to Denver to begin a new job and help her husband, Carl, transition into the retirement that he had always dreamed of when he was diagnosed with incurable, advanced cancer. She had just buried her 81-year-old father, and it was at his funeral that her husband began to complain that he didn’t feel well. Her world collapsed as she watched the man, whom she had loved for over 25 years decline and eventually pass away right before her very eyes. Theirs was a blended family, as Carl was twenty years older than Esther, and he had two grown children from a previous marriage. Esther had a son, Nathan, from an earlier relationship, and together they had a daughter named Adyn.
It wasn’t Carl’s physical death, however, that knocked Esther to her knees, it was the aftermath; the disaster of what can happen when someone passes away with no plan in place of what to do next. It was trying to navigate the fallout of her husband’s death that nearly destroyed Esther. Still, it was also the thing that educated, inspired, and moved her to create the business she runs today to help other individuals and families plan for life’s inevitable, but sometimes unexpected end.
Loss of Life Advocates (LOLA) was created by Esther Pipoly so that those who lose a loved one can have access to experts in the business of closing out life’s affairs. In 26 years, Esther never took an active role in financial or business decisions. She states, “After I lost my husband and father, I spent so much time searching for help. I was emotionally and financially paralyzed, and left with having to close down two estates, as well as go through legal battles. I created LOLA so I could hold the flashlight for you; so that you would have someone to guide you through the maze of all that happens before and after a loss.”
Esther’s story is gut-wrenching and unsettling. Death can happen to anyone at any time. Nobody is promised tomorrow, and regardless of what your religious or personal beliefs about death may be, we can all agree that we will all come to the end of our lives eventually. Would your loved ones know what to do when the time comes? Will they know what your wishes are and how you would want medical directions to be played out? Does someone trustworthy know where your sensitive financial documents are located? Do you have enough insurance to cover those who depend on you financially?
There are so many issues that we don’t think about. Esther has created a program that handles every element, and every situation that might occur when a loved one dies. She and her team do it with caring and compassion.
Navigating the dynamics of a blended family when the father/stepfather dies has been challenging. Unfortunately, she had to learn everything by trial and error, and it took quite a toll on her life. Still, through every sleepless night, every tear, and disappointment, she was rebuilding herself, and creating a vision to help others navigate the business of death with a clear plan and a caring guide who has been there.
“My ultimate wish is for families to begin accumulating their information so that when an untimely death or event does occur, everything is securely organized and accessible for their loved ones.”
No one likes to think about their death or the deaths of loved ones, but it will happen to all of us one day. Esther’s life purpose was realized during the most challenging period of her life but she turned it into a positive resource with real-life solutions for others
By Meredith Kay
Photography by Jason Roberts