Why I Do What I Do

Welcome to my blog! If you haven’t read the “About” page, please take a moment to do so…

…Yay, you’re back! So you know what I’m doing, but you don’t yet know why I’m doing it. So here goes (and I apologize in advance for the length)…

Because chicks dig it.
Just kidding.

When I was 11, I had to have my appendix removed. This was a few weeks before Christmas. The operation was done at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. The doctors, nurses, and staff were all amazing, but what stood out the most was the ward they put me in to recover: the cancer ward. There was a lack of open beds in every ward except for the cancer ward, so that’s where I got to spend my four days of recovery. At 11, I knew about cancer, having lost a grandmother, watching a friend’s mother suffer and battle through it, and having gone to a school where one of the younger kids was dealing with it. But being as young as I was, the grown-ups did their best to shelter me from the harsh realities of cancer. Being in that ward, surrounded by and interacting with all kinds of sick kids right before the holiday, it opened my eyes and broke my little heart.

Throughout middle and high school, I participated in the Builder’s Club and Key Club, community service organizations. Every time an activity came up that dealt with cancer patients (almost always the pediatric kind), I’d sign up immediately. Whether it was a fundraiser, or a spirit-boosting event, I was there. My goal was simple: help these kids feel better any way I could. Be it through laughter, listening, or raising money to go towards finding a cure or helping to defray the cost of medical expenses, that was my aim.

After graduating, I went to one of Penn State’s satellite campuses and got involved in THON, the world’s largest student-run philanthropy. I danced two years in a row, while being the THON Chairman for my campus during my second year. Dancing in THON remains one of the greatest experiences of my life. Check out THON for a more in-depth look.

I left Penn State early to join the Army. While I served, I wasn’t able to participate much in community service things, but I donated a percentage of each paycheck to worthy organizations. I deployed to Afghanistan in 2006-07. As infantry, I was posted way out in the frontier, literally in eyesight of the Pakistani border. I had the unpleasant misfortune of being near the gate of our base when a wounded Afghani truck driver and his 8 year old daughter were brought in for aid. They had hit an IED that was meant for us. The father died in our care, but the medics managed to stabilize the girl, who had lost a leg (among other ghastly injuries). We’d also occasionally hear of other kids getting hurt or killed by the bad guys. That was my main motivation to get through it and do my job: find and kill bad guys. It’s bad enough that children get sick, but injuring or killing them earns people a one-way ticket to hell. And my unit and I were more than happy to make the travel arrangements.

A few months after I got out of the Army, my world was rocked. I was in Florida with my then-girlfriend and her family right before Christmas when I received the worst phone call of my life from my older sister: my oldest nephew (who was 7 at the time) had brain cancer, and things were not looking good.

A month later, on his 8th birthday (and the day Obama was inaugurated), he went in for his first surgery. He made it through ok, and while the long-term prognosis was still grim, the doctors gave him a better shot than they had originally thought. He had a second surgery that summer, and I was allowed into the recovery room to see him. I immediately recognized the room as the same room I had been in following my appendectomy some 15 years prior, and took that as a good sign. But as soon as I saw him, I became concerned. He had a huge bandage dressing on his head (he kind of resembled Mojo Jojo from the Powerpuff Girls), his eyes were glazed, and he was making spit bubbles. I put on a good face, and asked him how he was doing. He said, in a doped-up voice, “I’m ok, how are you?” I told him I was good, and squeezed his hand. He gave a good squeeze back, and that relieved me. I asked his dad what was up with the spit bubbles, and my nephew chimed in and said he was trying to make everyone laugh because we all looked scared and worried and he didn’t like that. At that moment I knew he was going to be ok. A nurse came over to check on him, and I whispered (loudly enough for everybody to hear) that he should ask her for her phone number because she was cute. The nurse looked a little stunned, but was a good sport. My nephew laughed a little, which was fantastic.

After a long course of treatment, it looked like he was going to be fine. They couldn’t say he was in full remission yet, but that he was heading in that direction. He got to go on a Make-A-Wish trip to Disney World, and decided he wanted to become a doctor when he grew up, so that he could help sick kids just like his doctors had helped him. He got back into sports, consistently made the honor roll, and was the kid that everybody loved. He had an awesome combination of strength, compassion, and friendliness that you rarely see these days, especially not in children.

Then around Labor Day 2010, my older sister called again with an even worse bit of news: the cancer was back with a vengeance, and it was terminal. The doctors have him 3-6 months.

My sister organized a huge party to celebrate him and his life a few months later, and it was simultaneously joyous and heart-wrenching. It also served as a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish. At this point, he had begun deteriorating, and had become blind in one eye. But he had a blast. I gave him a crown and told him to tell people “Hail to the king, baby!” That was early November.

When I saw him at Christmas, he was paralyzed on one side of his body, and was not in a good state of mind. It was devastating to see.

He died on January 17, 2011, just three days shy of his 10th birthday.

My sister resolved to make that party, dubbed “Christianpalooza” after him, an annual event to commemorate his life and raise money for Make-A-Wish. To date, she’s raised almost $50,000. Furthermore, it inspired me to get back into the game and to try to make the world a better place.

So last year, I started doing these Crazy Good Deeds and supported a bunch of worthy causes, while helping others to plug and support their causes. Because the world isn’t a kind or fair place, I believe that it is up to us to do what we can to make it better for those who are suffering, especially the children.

And that’s why I do what I do.

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