I woke up at 6:30 this morning, reminiscing on all the successes and failures I've endured over the last four years. What sparked these memories was the two messages I received from my close friend, Jessica Volk, and family friend, Michele Rosette, hours before I'll walk up on stage and receive my diploma in front of the Oviatt Library at Cal State University, Northridge.
Jessica's text message read: "I'm SO proud of you!! Everything you've gone through, every hardship and challenge, and today is another major success!! You deserve to celebrate so much. It's such a huge accomplishment," Michele's Facebook message was parallel to Jessica's heart-felt words, reading, "Congratulations!! Enjoy today. You've had quite the journey to get here!! Take time to savor the accomplishment."
I'll walk up on stage just like every other student tonight, but the truth is, I'm different. No one, and I mean NO ONE, knows what it took to get to this moment. All the sleepless nights I spent on the bathroom floor, nauseous from the different chemotherapy drugs I had to take every day. The days I skipped class at CSUN because I couldn't afford to commute there. The many sessions I spent at Cedars Sinai, talking to a therapist because I needed someone to know everything I was going through. The 20-mile long runs I endured, despite battling back from several nagging injuries and illnesses. The failed suicide attempt I took part in the weekend I found out I'd have to give up my competitive running career due to a second degree heart block. The drug addiction I was a part of for two disappointing years. It made the pain go away, and I loved it.
I've been working since I was 13, too, and guess how much I have in my savings account 13 years later? Maybe a couple hundred dollars, if that? That's because all the money I made working went towards the diploma I'll accept later this evening, and all the medical bills I've had to pay on my own because my parents couldn't afford them all. There was absolutely no way they could, and I didn't want them to.
Remember last November, when I was diagnosed with major depression and anxiety after totaling my 2004 Toyota Sienna? I hid my pain from my Dad and Mom for months. It wasn't until three weeks after my diagnosis - when the suicidal thoughts came back - that I decided to ask them for help. November 2016 is the moment I realized just how special my parents, and entire support system (that's you!), is.
I came out as gay after my victory at the 2015 Santa Clarita Valley Marathon, probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do, and it was amazing. I was accepted and loved, and, last summer, I fell in love for the first time with my best friend. I also experienced the biggest heart-break of my life, though, because, the most amazing guy in the world doesn't feel the same way, but that's okay. I'm so happy to have him as my best friend.
Then there was that demonic creature known as cancer - chronic myeloid leukemia to be exact. I wasn't supposed to beat it. The average age people get this type of cancer is 64, and a majority of those diagnosed enter complete remission status within two years. It took me four.
May 1, just 18 days ago, I "officially" beat cancer, and boy, were we surprised. Dr. Paquette keeps calling me the poster child for Bolsulif. I don't think I've realized the magnitude of my victory over cancer, and chances are I probably won't ever. I'm just so blessed be here. I feel like the luckiest person in the world. All the victories, lessons learned, and positive moments I've experienced, despite an uncertain future.
To those who come across this blog post, I'm here to tell you it's going to be okay. All those sleepless nights and days spent struggling to breath WILL end. You know those long days spent at work, endless nights staying up late doing homework, and bad workouts you've endured? They're not permanent. All those tears shed over losing loved ones? I've been there. I've lost my best friend, Diesel the Rottweiler, and role model, Sarah Sumpter, to cancer, my close friend, Christine, to a blood clot, neighbor and friend, Kyle Carranza, to suicide, and biological mother, Karen, too.
I'm here to tell you, that even though you may be struggling right now, it's temporary, and behind all those tears and pain and heartbreaks is beauty. I'm so blessed to still have both sets of Grandparents alive, all four in their 90s and thriving. I'm so blessed to have won the 2013 SCV Half-Marathon and 2015 SCV Marathon during my four-year battle with cancer, and for Coach Rene Paragas for giving me the opportunity to coach the Saugus boys' cross country program to its first CIF state crown in 2013. I'm so blessed to have worked for 13 years because, behind those dirty, red chairs at the movie theater and eight-hour shifts at Burger King were so many life-long friendships. God, I"m so, so blessed...
I want you to know that I, and so many others, love you and care about you and want you to succeed, just like I did. Who cares whether or not I know you, I want to see you hurdle over whatever obstacle you're being faced with. I want you to know that even though you might be running through the dark now doesn't mean you don't have a future full of light. I want you to know just how wonderful you are, no matter what gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, or religion you are. I want you to be proud of every single accomplishment - no matter how big or small it is - because every little accomplishment is a stepping stone to something much, much bigger, and I want you to love those around you.
Last but not least, as I walk on stage to accept my diploma at Cal State University, Northridge tonight, I want you to know all my victories are yours too, whether I know you or not. I hope my journey leaves you with lessons about passion, sacrifice, success, and, most importantly, failure, because you WILL fail. But you'll also succeed. Never give up, thank those who helped you, and please love you for you.