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Purdue Global student says ‘this comeback is for all of us’ 

Alejandra Palma sits on a concrete park bench, wearing a navy and white striped jacket, holding an open laptop.

Now that she’s defeated cancer, Chilean-born Alejandra Palma is making a comeback in the U.S. (Purdue University photo/Kelsey Lefever)

Business administration major Alejandra Palma’s dream honors her family

Alejandra Palma (BS business administration, Purdue Global) says the part of her childhood in Chile that serves as her ultimate North Star is the evening walks she used to take with the love of her life — her dad. Every night, they used to catch the views of the city and talk.  

“The first years of my life, it was just me and my father,” she says. “He had to work a lot, so at night after dinner, he took my hand and we walked to a viewpoint where we could see the city. It was our ritual before going to sleep.” 

In true childlike fashion, she would tell him how much she loved him. How she would always love him, just like this. He would tell her, no, she was going to grow up and make a life for herself, and that’s a good thing; they would both be at peace with it. She would say, nope. She was going to bring him along to live with her. “But I’ll be a grumpy old man!” he would say. But Palma thought he could get old and grumpy all he wants, but no matter where her adventures took her, she vowed to be right there with him and love him just the same.  

Those adventures would take her overseas. But that’s where things took an unexpected turn. Rather than fulfilling her dream of opening a permanent-makeup studio in the United States, she found herself facing her own mortality. She says her brush with death gave her a new outlook on herself and the world around her, and it led her to Purdue Global.  

That’s where her comeback began. What she didn’t know was how profoundly her family would feel ownership of it, too. 

A passion for beauty 

“I’ve always heard that if you don’t work for your own dreams, somebody else will hire you to work for their dreams,” Palma says. That’s why she always knew she wanted to carve her own path as an entrepreneur. And she knew exactly what she wanted to do, too. 

Years after her nightly walks with her dad, she had sisters to play with. More to the point, she had sisters with hair — prime for a fresh cut. At 10 years old, Palma accepted the challenge. 

A lot of people may have had a sibling cut their hair, but the haircut Palma gave her sister was dramatic. Her sister’s hair started out very long and ended up in a chin-length bob. It got a surprising reaction from the grownups. 

“I wasn’t grounded or anything because I made a perfect cut!” she says.  

It was then that she knew. Drawing out the beauty in others was her greatest passion. 

As she grew up, she identified what it was about fashion and cosmetology that brought her joy. “Every woman is beautiful,” she explains. “But if I can help somebody to feel more beautiful or show somebody something they don’t know they have, that’s what means a lot to me.” 

She took the first step as a young adult by going to beauty school in Chile and becoming a licensed cosmetologist. Then, along with a friend, she opened up a small studio. But she still wanted more. She felt like she had the “what” right but not the “where.” Her ultimate dream was doing the same thing in the United States, so she sold her portion of the studio to her business partner and she moved to the States to pursue her highest dream. 

That move saved her life. 

The will to fight 

Her first step after moving to the States was to get the income flowing, so she took a manual labor job in a factory while she worked on plans to open the studio. Three months into the new job, her insurance benefits kicked in, and she immediately made an appointment for a checkup with a primary care physician.  

It was supposed to be routine — she felt completely normal — but it turned into the moment everyone fears. The anomaly. The additional tests. The call. 

Cancer.  

While it’s never a good moment for a cancer diagnosis, the timing couldn’t have been worse. Palma was in a new country, didn’t speak the language, had no network of loved ones nearby. Although she knew she was brave, ready to take on any challenge, this one wiped out her strong will. 

“It changed everything,” she says. “I went from being a completely healthy person to an oncology patient with no desire to fight.” 

Alejandra Palma plays with her two dogs who have just come inside through an open sliding glass door. They are both standing on their back legs.
Alejandra Palma says a positive attitude is essential to rising above challenges, and she finds joy everywhere. (Purdue University photo/Kelsey Lefever)

Now, so suddenly, she was 37 years old and considering end-of-life decisions. She says she didn’t want to spend her final days anywhere but with her two sons, so Palma went to her supervisor with the intent to quit her job. Her boss wouldn’t have it. She believed Palma could get through this and encouraged her to take a medical leave so she could get paid, keep her insurance and have something to work toward that had nothing to do with cancer. 

It not only gave her the resources she needed to fight cancer, it gave her the will to fight it. And she did. 

“Without a doubt, it was one of the most difficult periods of my life,” she says. “It was full of uncertainties, pain and emotional turmoil, but it also led me to profound personal growth. Now, I feel more appreciation for life. It made me resilient. I am more empathetic. I learned to evaluate my priorities. I saw the fragility and beauty of life, and I saw the spirit of the human being and the connections that can be born.” 

Armed with a fresh will to fight, Palma endured treatments, one after another, and finally received good news. She was in remission.  

But by then, something inside had shifted. She was still dreaming of opening her own studio, but the journey itself mattered more to her now than it used to. While she fought for her life, Palma thought, if she survived, how could she truly give her dream the best shot possible? And where could she find real meaning along the way?  

She remembered her dad always told her never to forget where she came from, and the dream-on-the-way-to-the-dream came into focus. She wanted her journey to reflect her love for her family, too.  

My dream was to be the first person in my family to go to college. My sister told me the other day, ‘You know what? You’re living a dream for all of us.’

Alejandra Palma 
BS business administration, Purdue Global 

An education to move her forward 

“In my country, going to college is a privilege; it’s not a right,” she says. “For a middle-class family in Chile, it’s just not possible. So, my dream was to be the first person in my family to go to college. My sister told me the other day, ‘You know what? You’re living a dream for all of us.’ Living that dream is my gift to myself for being in remission.” 

Once she’d made the decision to enroll in a bachelor’s program after a 20-odd-year hiatus from academics, she says Purdue’s reputation made Purdue Global her top pick. The flexibility offered in a program designed for working adults made it a real possibility. 

“I chose Purdue Global because I wanted to be part of Purdue. I didn’t want any other university,” she says. “And I wanted an online program because I can work and pursue my degree. It’s been the perfect combination between traditional studies and modern skills offered by the digital age.” 

Palma says it’s the best decision she’s made in her life. 

“It’s been essential to prepare my journey through the business world. While it’s true that the art of permanent makeup requires technical skills, running a successful beauty studio requires a deep understanding of business principles,” she says. “Studying marketing opened up a world I was not aware of and provided me with the tools to create a strong brand and target the right audience.” 

She’s nearing the end of the course requirements now, and she finds that her dad was right — she’s found peace at this stage in life — but she hasn’t forgotten her promise to bring him along. She and her boyfriend, who has been extremely supportive all along, plan to fly her parents in from Chile to share her commencement ceremony when the day comes. 

“I haven’t seen them in three years,” she says. “Just thinking about crossing the stage with my parents there, tears of happiness run down my face.” 

It’s never too late to invest in yourself … never forget that every effort you put in brings you one step closer to a brighter and more empowered future.

Alejandra Palma  BS business administration, Purdue Global 

Never too late 

Palma wants people to know that education is a life-changing gift to give yourself. Nothing could be more worth it. 

“The value of educating ourselves goes beyond that paper we receive at the end and hang on the wall. This is a transformation. We see doors open for us both personally and professionally,” she says. 

“It’s never too late to invest in yourself. You must believe in your potential. Embrace the journey and never forget that every effort you put in brings you one step closer to a brighter and more empowered future. Your dedication will be an inspiration to others who want to pursue their dreams, too.”