Valerie and derek were friends first. Going back to 7th Grade, their paths naturally crossed as all the town’s elementary schools came together for the first time. “I remember the first few weeks of gym class in middle school,” recalls Valerie, “and the instructor had the girls and the boys line up according to height. I was next to Derek.” As they counted-off to decide teams, they were picked to play the same position but on opposite teams.
Derek later said that was the day he fell in love. Valerie said she remembers feeling flattered. She knew he liked her. She thought he was cute (in that middle school kind of way) but hadn’t felt more than that. What she didn’t know was that this 7th grade courtship would blossom first into a beautiful, strong friendship and then later into a deep-rooted, powerful connection that would change her life.
When they entered high school their last names placed them in the same home room and next to each other in some of the same classes. Consequently, they saw each other every weekday. Both played fall sports and would see each other on the playing fields after school; soccer for Derek and field hockey for Valerie. During Junior year they sat next to each other in Spanish class and this is where Valerie remembers things changed for them.
Although both were very driven students in the honors program, they looked forward to their time here. Valerie recalls her seat was in front of Derek’s and that anytime the teacher turned away he
would do something to make her laugh. Valerie no longer thought Derek was just another guy in her class but instead looked forward to seeing him. She loved how his eyes lit up when he smiled. He had also grown much taller since 7th grade, and now was a lanky 5’10”, playing both varsity soccer and basketball.
There was a growing connection between the two and a natural ease, but they were not yet boyfriend and girlfriend. The catalyst for that transition was a birthday phone call from Derek during the summer before their senior year. It wasn’t just any phone call—Derek had to do a little planning and make a real effort. He was touring Israel that summer, and when he took the time to call Valerie from halfway around the world, she was overwhelmed that despite all the new things he was doing and seeing on his trip, he thought of her. And she missed him. It made her think that Derek would be more than just a friend. And when he returned from Israel, the two became a couple, and their relationship was one that started like any high school romance.
But that was to quickly change. Derek was diagnosed with cancer five months later. Their typical high school relationship was no longer simple. It would be much more. It was extraordinary, but I’ll let Derek tell that story in his own words.
This journal is for all the people who know me and everyone that does not. It is for the members of my family, both immediate and distant. It is for all of my friends, old and young alike. It is for my teachers, mentors, and coaches. For my fellow teammates, Israel trip members and board members. It is for fellow classmates, club members, and class officers. It is for my doctors, surgeons, technicians, specialists, and nurses. It is for those who have been or who are cancer patients, it is for the young child or elderly person who was just diagnosed with a serious illness. It is for those who have or will experience surgery, from a simple tonsillectomy to heart bypass. For those who have experienced the death of a loved one. It is for everyone and anyone. The intention is to inform and educate. It is to dispel any secrets, rumors, or misunderstandings. Ignorance is not bliss, rather knowledge is power. It is one chapter in a long and wonderful score. Here is my story.