It’s hard to think of time as linear when there are so many gaps.
One of my absolute best friends, Justin Valdez, was recently diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. He is 28 years old, and up until a couple weeks ago, he was an in-the-throes second-year medical student at the University of Iowa, happily married to his high school sweetheart.
And then life happened.
This past week I’ve been casting about in this sort of feigned shock, calm and optimistic, pretending like I don’t know or understand what “unfair” means. But deep down, I know: this is the textbook definition of “unfair.” And I know I’m not supposed to make sense of it, and I can’t pretend to know why certain things happen to people who least deserve it and others continue on without so much as a sniffle. But that doesn’t stop me from hating it all.
Of course, I don’t let myself become too sad or too angry for too long – because, the truth is, I do not have a single damn thing to complain about. My feelings are but a drop in a bucket, comparatively speaking. Because the total tonnage of things Justin and Mal could complain about right now could level a town.
But do I hear complaints from him? Not at all. Instead, he tells me that his “liver and colon are being real d**** right now,” but he’ll find time to see me soon.
He’ll find time to see me. That’s the type of man Justin is.
As we’ve grown older, I’d be lying if I said Justin and I have grown apart. Growing up has a way of doing that, even with close friends. No longer are our houses separated by only 10 miles of corn. No longer do we work together everyday. No longer do we stay up super late playing video games until your mom comes upstairs to yell at us. We’ve grown up. But even though the seasons pass, I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t still consider him like a brother to me.
And although we’ve certainly aged, one thing has always remained the same with Justin: his strength. Justin has never taken a thing from anyone. He gives and he gives and he makes his own luck and he fought against all odds to get to where he is today. It’s part of what makes him who he is: a self-made man who carries his and your worlds on his shoulders.
The problem is, some things were not meant to be carried on your own.
Some things were meant to be left to a fierce belief in what we can achieve together.
One out of every three pages on GoFundMe are for raising money for medical treatments and financial burdens that come with it- and most often, for cancer. And the reason, though quite obvious, bears saying.
Cancer touches us all. If we’re real lucky, not us specifically. Not our family or our friends, either. However, I know a great many of you aren’t so lucky. I also know that even the lucky ones know someone living with that pain from someone’s experience with cancer. It takes the air right out of the room. It’s our job now to restore it.
Justin is and will be fighting for his life against cancer. Because that is the type of man he is. He overcomes odds, he doesn’t fall to them. But for once, I do not want him to do all on his own. Mal is one of the toughest women I know, but she deserves us to lean on, too.
I do not want their lives to be determined by money. Insurance companies and big pharma and the other money players have decided that the burden should fall on the pocket books of those already afflicted with an indescribable burden. That is the reality Mal and Justin and faced with now. Private loan holders and medical bill collectors do not care, landlords do not care, and the US Government does not care.
So, we have to.
I’m calling on a favor from each and every one of you, and everyone you know, and everyone they know…. for Justin and Mal. Please, any little bit that you can donate will be very much appreciated. The money we collect will help offset and defray some of the soon-to-be mounting medical bills, as well as other financial burdens, incurred as a result of the life changes Justin and Mal will have to make in the coming months and years.
Donate today. Hell, donate tomorrow and next week and next month for good measure. And if you can’t donate, please, share. Share on your Facebook. Share on your LinkedIn. Share by word of mouth to family members and friends who still do not have social media accounts.
Let me extend my deepest gratitude to all considering sharing or donating. Your support is immeasurably appreciated. All donations will be put into a bank account created just for these donations so that there is an easy money-in, money-out audit trail for the IRS. For those reasons, read this fancy disclaimer:
Donations to Justin and Mal’s campaign are to be strictly construed as a “gift” with no expectation of return. You cannot claim your donation as a deduction on your taxes, because this is neither a fundraiser nor a 501(c)(3) organization. It is a campaign for one of the most deserving couples I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing, so that they can focus on Justin’s health and each other, and not mounting bills. Justin and Mal want and deserve the best care available – and will need to travel and see the best specialists he can to get the best treatment plan possible.
If we can deliver even an ounce of reassurance to their building worries, I know Justin and Mal would be eternally grateful. Once again, Justin is a 28-year-old second year medical student who is taking a year on leave from school to fight the good fight and beat this cancer’s ass. For as long as I can remember, he has wanted to save people. Let us band together and save him so he can make good on that promise. #JustinandMallorySTRONG
Please follow Justin’s progress on his wife’s Facebook campaign page, linked here.
And please, don’t forget to share: