My story starts back in 2006, when my boyfriend Justin Whitaker was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the end of our sophomore year of high school. Justin was a baseball player in wonderful health until that summer. Just at the end of our sophomore year after a few weeks of feeling a lump and discomfort in his throat, Justin’s family took him to Potomac Hospital in Potomac, VA. From there he was transferred to Inova Fairfax Hospital’s Children’s oncology unit. After a biopsy and all the tests were ran Justin was diagnosed and his treatments would begin shortly after.
Each cancer journey takes all those involved through numerous ups and downs and just an overall roller-coaster of emotions. Justin’s story is no different. After about 8 months of treatment, scans showed that all the tumors were gone and that Justin was on his way to remission. He would return to school during the second semester of our junior year. Then after not only returning to school but returning and playing the sport he loved, baseball, Justin would get the news that the cancer had returned with a vengeance.
Justin would begin chemo and radiation again during the fall of 2007. In November of that year, Justin had a bone marrow transplant that seemed to to do the trick. However, after a few months his cancer would return again and this time not back down.
Justin and I were together through this all. He was nicknamed Superman during his treatments and there was no better nickname for him. He is the strongest, most determined, loving and caring person I have been blessed to meet and love. His fight taught me more about what it means to truly love someone, how to keep your faith in the darkest times, how important family and friends are, and the one thing that ended up becoming a mantra not just for me, but for thousands of others, how to be relentless.
Sorry for the long winded story, I could go on for days. See, Justin passed away in April of 2008. Just after asking me if after all fighting of this terrible disease was done, and we had finished school, if we could spend the rest of our lives together. Devastated doesn’t begin to describe what that time was like for me, his family and our friends. Then I was introduced to a family and an organization that would forever change me. I attended Hofstra University, same as Nick and there I met his family when they were on campus for a HEADstrong event. We spoke and this was the first time I had heard Nick’s story. I was truly inspired by not only by Nick but by his whole family and their determination to not just keep Nick’s legacy and dream of HEADstrong alive and running but by helping those who are going through all the ups and downs that this journeys bring. HEADstrong and its mission helped get me through some of the hardest times of my life. HEADstrong and the Colleluori’s hold a special place in my heart and there is no better cause or family. #ForNick #BeRelentless