Like most high school seniors, D.J. had big ambitions for his last year of school—spending time with friends, applying for college, celebrating graduation…but life had other plans for him. Right after football season, D.J. started getting sharp headaches. He initially thought it was a sinus infection, but it turned out to be something far more serious—a brain tumor. In less than a week, his whole world flipped upside down. “I went from being a regular student excited about winter break to ‘oh hey, you have cancer,’” he said.
The Battle Begins
Within two days of his diagnosis, D.J. underwent a five-and-a-half hour surgery to remove a golf ball-sized mass near his cerebellum. Multiple rounds of radiation and chemotherapy followed, with blood transfusions, scans and hospital stays becoming the new normal. “Wow. This battle is not for the faint of heart,” his mom Charlene wrote on his Facebook update page three weeks into radiation.
Loneliness and Isolation
It was a tough transition for the good-natured and gifted athlete, who missed the social interactions and camaraderie that naturally accompany high school and team sports in particular. “I felt really lonely at first,” he admitted.
That’s when CCA stepped in with an introduction to Josh who became D.J.’s Chemo Pal Mentor. Josh’s love of sports and exercise made him a natural fit, but it was his optimistic outlook and patient attitude that allowed him to be present for D.J. even in the toughest of moments.
When D.J. is feeling good, the two guys like to hit the gym for D.J.’s physical therapy, catch a Blazer game, or go out to eat. On the not-so-good days, Josh is there too, providing an outlet and true mentorship. “It was so nice to have a friend there to hang out and visit with,” said D.J. “It made a big difference.”
Find the Gift
Loneliness wasn’t the only challenge for D.J. after his diagnosis, surgery, and treatment. He also struggled with feelings of anger and sadness. “I was grieving for the life I’d had before,” he said. But his attitude soon shifted with the help of family, faith, and a simple phrase that serves as his own personal rally cry: find the gift. “Instead of thinking of everything that was stripped away, I think about all the opportunities my situation presents,” he explained. “Just because bad things happen, you can’t let yourself get stuck. Find the gift, the positive, and keep moving forward.”
That kind of wisdom has made D.J. an inspiration to everyone around him. It’s why he was voted Most Inspirational Player by his football team, the Clackamas Cavaliers. It’s also why he was nominated as a 2018 CCA Hero.
In our next post, (part 2 of 2) you’ll learn how D.J. is using his experience battling cancer to make a difference for other seriously ill young adults like him.
Help young adults like D.J. “find the gift“ as they go through cancer diagnoses and treatment by donating today.