David is an active, bright 13-year-old with a passion for science. Even from a very young age, he always wanted to know the answers to everything. And so when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in February of 2021, the first thing he did was ask the doctor a question: “What are the chances that I’m going to die from this?”
Hitting the Pause Button
Growing up in small-town Colorado, David was a mile-a-minute kid, always riding his bike, playing outside with his little brother Daniel, or playing “fireman” down at the local fire station. When the family moved to Washington, David became an avid runner—however, he started having a nagging pain in his left leg. An initial exam by the doctor found everything to be normal, but he ordered an X-ray just in case. And it’s a good thing he did: the X-ray showed a fuzzy mass on David’s leg, and an MRI confirmed that things were far from okay.
“They called us and said he had a tumor,” said his mom, Racheal. “I must have cried in the closet for an hour because I didn’t want to worry David, who of course wanted to know exactly what was going on.” When the biopsy results came back, life as they knew it suddenly came to a standstill.
A Poster Leads to a Lifeline
For the first month of David’s chemotherapy treatments, Racheal would sit in the parent’s lounge and stare at the posters on the wall. “I saw the CCA posters for the JoyRx Mentorship program and the JoyRx Music program and would think, ‘One day, I’m going to call.’”
Meanwhile, David had been making a “chemo bucket list” of things he wanted to accomplish during his chemotherapy treatments. Learning to play guitar was high on the list, so Racheal reached out to CCA, who immediately provided David with a guitar and a JoyRx Music specialist to help him learn it.
“I had no idea I was going to get lessons, and I was really excited when I found out,” said David. “We’re learning fundamentals like scales right now.”
“I have pictures of David’s first video session with JoyRx Music specialist, Cameron,” Racheal recalled. “He had a big smile on his face, which was something we hadn’t seen much of lately. It was really nice to see the old David back for a few minutes.”
Someone Who Understands
During a particularly rough patch for David, Racheal reached out to CCA again—this time for a JoyRx Mentor. “We’re a very close family and David is really open with us, but I could see sometimes that he wasn’t ready to talk to us or didn’t know how to talk to us,” said Racheal. “I wanted to give him somebody outside our bubble that he could talk to. That’s when we were matched with Justin.”
It couldn’t have been a better match. JoyRx Mentor Justin has been on a cancer journey of his own, so he knew exactly what David was going through. “I wanted to be able to provide a distraction and an outlet for David so he could share his feelings if he felt like it,” said Justin.
“It’s been a huge relief to have Justin there,” said David’s dad, Nick. “It’s so great to hear David’s mood lift when he talks to Justin. He really opens up to him, even on days when he’s been very quiet otherwise.”
The two new friends now spend hours together on video chats, just talking or building Legos together. “David is the Lego Master!” laughed Justin. And when David was feeling scared before a major surgery on his leg, it was Justin he turned to for support.
“I called him the night before, because I was feeling really anxious,” David explained. “They were going to amputate my leg at the knee and then reattach my ankle at the knee joint, so it’s a major surgery. Justin calmed me down a lot.”
Despite all their virtual hangouts, David and Justin had never met in person—until CCA invited them to a special social-distance event! Justin wanted to keep it as a surprise and was trying to stay hidden, but David spotted a flash of him and instantly knew it was his friend.
“I had no idea Justin was going to be here, and I was SO happy to see him!” said David.
First Running, then Flying
With his ankle attached backwards, it now serves as David’s knee joint, allowing him to run someday with a prosthetic leg. (The procedure is called a Rotationplasty). “It was between that and a limb salvage surgery,” explained Racheal. “That would limit his mobility but has a better cosmetic factor. Obviously having a backwards ankle at your knee looks a lot different, but David said, ‘I don’t care if it looks different. If I can’t run, I don’t need a leg.”
“It was a hard decision to make,” David admitted. “But it was the only solution that I could run on, and running was one of my big things before this. I can’t wait to run again.”
Running isn’t David’s only ambition—eventually, he hopes to take to the skies as a pilot in the Air Force.
“I’m Not as Scared Anymore”
For now, David and his family are focusing on his recovery and taking each day as it comes. Racheal says she’s grateful for all the joy and support CCA has provided along the way. “I think to be able to escape our current reality even for 30 minutes has been a huge help for all of us,” she said. “To have a meeting with Justin or a guitar lesson with Cameron gives David something to look forward to, and that makes all the difference.”
As for David, he’s just glad to have friends like Justin and Cameron in his corner. “Having them has done so much for my mood,” he said. “In the beginning, I was really scared, but I’m not as scared anymore because now I have someone who understands what it’s like to be me.”
You can help more kids like David experience the emotional benefits of JoyRx by making a donation today.