On September 24th of 1988 I was at a Def Leppard concert with some friends. When I got home that night, and it was late, I had learned that my sister had had her baby. He was her first child, he was the first grandchild and he was my first nephew. He was a little cone-headed but he was beautiful.
My sweet little Justin Ryan.
He is my godchild and I could not love him any more if I tried. He always makes me smile and just being around him makes me feel good. I don't always agree with the things that he does but that's okay.
In October of 2001, at the age of 13, Justin was diagnosed with Leukemia. We were all shocked. I think that we all went numb for a period of time. I was living 600 miles away and didn't get to see him hardly at all during his battle but I was majorly impressed with the way that he held himself strong during such a difficult time. The chemo, the days of being sick that followed, losing his hair...he did it all and he became a role model to so many.
When he graduated the 8th grade, the whole family was there and I remember when they called his name, the whole audience cheered loudly. You see, the whole school knew of his battle with cancer and so to see him walk across the stage to get his diploma was worth cheering.
Three years after his diagnosis, he was cancer free. Six years later, he is still cancer free and ready to take on the world. At this stage of his life, after having been through so much, he could probably take on anything. And to that end, he has chosen to take the life that God has given him and join the Marines.
We are not a military family and so this came as a GREAT shock to us all. The only problem? The Marines did not seem to want him. I don't think they actually COULD say "no" but they made him jump through many, many hoops and still they would not take him. He had every medical clearance that he could get and finally, he took matters in to his own hands and contacted a Senator and a county official and soon enough, he got the call.
The Marines wanted him.
Most of the family still doesn't understand why he wants to do this. I am beyond proud because really, he could have played the cancer-card and used that to get out of doing anything challenging for the rest of his life but instead, he wants to make a difference. He wants to be known as something other than a cancer survivor. The cancer did not define him. He is now, at age 22, ready to tackle something else that most of us would not.
As he finishes doing what he has to do before heading out to start his training, there are a lot of mixed emotions going around. I will never discourage him. He is not doing anything that his wrong; if anything, he is doing something more admirable than all of us in the family combined.
I love you, Punkin, and I am so, so proud of you.
To read the complete story of Justin's journey from cancer to Marines, you can click HERE.
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