The Match of a Lifetime

October 20, 2013

I met my best friend Jack in seventh grade. It was at a school dance, and amid the movement of young dancers and covered by the sound of pumping music, he was just standing there. Everyone around him was having fun and grooving to the beat of Soulja boy while he was just standing motionless and had a look of utter confusion on his face. It looked like a field of grain bending at the force of a strong wind with the exception of one lone strand resisting the push of nature. At the time I looked at him and thought he was the weirdest kid I have ever seen in my life.
Two months later, I joined the school’s wrestling team and surprisingly so did Jack. Despite my initial impressions of him, Jack and I were quick friends. We had become rivals on the mat. Our competitive natures kept pushing us to become as strong as possible. We were always evenly matched to the point that it drove me crazy that I could not beat him, but we were good friends all the same.
In high school, Jack and I were inseparable, we hung out all the time, his family basically claimed me as their “Asian son”, and we were once again trying out for the wrestling team. At the beginning of our tenth grade season, it finally seemed like I was getting the upper hand on him. I was picking up the techniques much more quickly and for some reason Jack was not taking the conditioning as well as the others. Something odd was happening to him, he was getting headaches in the morning all the time and he could not wrestle to the best of his abilities at tournaments. We had ruled out pregnancy as the cause and we were pretty sure puberty was not it either. There was only one source of the problems that were causing Jack so much strife. Justin Bieber. It was a standing joke for a while that Justin Bieber had started Jack’s headaches because the morning after we had watched his new movie in 3D, Jack’s headaches began. And although we had always joked about his condition, Jack’s mom seemed a little more worried than the rest of us.
A couple weeks after the end of wrestling season, Jack was going to the doctor to see what was going on with his head. I said my goodbye’s with him and started my journey home. On the way home, I thought I saw Jack’s mom’s car driving by and as I was about to wave, the car crashed straight into the bumper of the car in front of it and rear ended by the car behind. I was not sure if it was her or not, but I was too scared to get involved and ran away. This was the first of many tragic events that struck Jack’s life and one of my biggest regrets. I should have gone back to make sure his mom was okay, but I was too much of a coward. From that point on it seemed like life was a constant uphill battle for Jack.
That night, I received word from his parents saying that he had developed brain cancer and would need to go through surgery and chemo soon. I was shocked. Jack did not show up to school the next day and I was afraid that I had no way to help him through these troubled times he would soon face. How could someone as strong, smart, and energetic as Jack get something as destructive as cancer?
Once word got out about Jack, everyone asked me what was going on and how he was doing, but I was just as in the dark as they were. I felt so useless; everyone thought that I, the best friend, would have all the answers, but cancer had Jack and I pinned. Even though I was not the one diagnosed with it, cancer still affected my life in a negative way. I started to grow bitter towards the world. I found myself constantly asking “Why could not it have been me?” I wanted desperately to shoulder Jack’s burden for him. Unfortunately this was Jack’s match and his alone to wrestle.
Once Jack’s surgery was over, I went to visit him immediately. For some odd reason everyone that visited him felt the need to cry and sympathize for him. They could not tell, but Jack hated it. He was not dead, he was still the same guy everyone knew and loved. When I visited him I still joked around with him even if he could not talk and I got him gifts that really cheered him up. I made sure he still felt like a human being.
About a year later Jack finished his chemo therapy and was on his way to making an awesome recovery. He told me about the event Relay for Life, and I decided to make a team in his honor. I lead the team and we just barely made enough money to stay the night. Since Jack was not strong enough to walk, I made a promise to walk for the both of us and walk the whole 24 hours, a challenge that seemed easy enough. I had never been so wrong in my life.
Relay for Life was one of the hardest things I have ever had to endure. The first 5 hours of walking were pretty easy, but after walking the length of a marathon, your feet start to hurt, a lot. At night, my will seemed completely broken. I was crawling on the track in order to complete laps. I wanted nothing more than to stop and crawl into a ball and sleep. But I knew that cancer never sleeps, so neither should I. I made a promise to Jack to walk all night and I had to keep that promise. Before, I was forced to sit on the sidelines and watch Jack wrestle this demon, but now, I felt we were taking on this foe together. I walked a total of 150 laps that day, around 37.5 miles. I had never felt so tired in my life. But I knew that this tiredness was only a fraction of what Jack had to put up with.
Even though I was not the one who was diagnosed with it, cancer has forever changed my life. I have seen firsthand how destructive it can be to the human body and to the families affected. Jack can’t participate in sports anymore, but he still pushes me to be the best that I can be. I used to think that cancer was the worst thing to have ever happened to him, but I have now realized that it has made Jack even stronger. He may not see it yet, but I can see that the events that have transpired in the past few years will significantly affect his future. He will touch the hearts of many people who are dealing with the same situation he was in. Instead of being defeated by this daunting enemy, he decided to rise up and punch cancer square in the nose. I have never felt so honored to call someone like Jack my friend and brother.
Thanh Truong