How Love Took Me To Another Coast


16 Oct How Love Took Me To Another Coast

In April of 2011 I had just passed my one year anniversary from being declared in remission from Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As a new cancer Survivor one thing that kept calling me was the desire to help other cancer patients who were in treatment. I think it’s a common feeling that cancer Survivors have — the ability to empathize and the need to help others who are now in your shoes. That feeling became even more apparent to me that April.

ethan-bearI had been communicating with an online community on Facebook for Lymphoma patients and survivors when I ran across a post shared by a Facebook friend of mine on her wall. It was a Caringbridge link (a site that allows those with medical conditions to write a journal and keep family and friends up-to-date on their condition) for a little boy fighting cancer. The journal was written by the mother of a little boy named Ethan Jostad who had been fighting a type of cancer I’d never heard of — Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. Something made me click that link and read that post. I like to think it was fate.

I read Ethan’s story through the words written by his mother Kim, and a few posts here and there from Ethan’s father Chris, and Grandmother Debbie. Kim’s writing was raw and it was full of emotion. It was so real and honest, and it hit me to my core. All I could think about was how difficult it must have been for Ethan to experience what he had gone through at the young ages of seven, eight, and nine. After all I had gone through the same, and it was quite frankly hell on Earth. There he was, this beautiful boy with the warmest smile, a child who had been through so much and who was so happy. Ethan and his family were happy because they had just recently received the news that his scans were clear and there was no evidence of disease, a feeling I was very familiar with.

Reading Ethan’s story moved me so much that I sent a message to his Facebook page with the simple statement of, “Just one cancer survivor reaching out to another. Hang in there Ethan.” I never expected to get a response back or even a reply, but was surprised to hear back from Ethan’s mom along with a friend request. We traded messages back and forth and developed a friendship online. I kept track of Ethan’s progress and read Kim’s posts to see how he was doing. In May of 2011 things took a turn for the worst when Ethan began feeling pain in his left side. There was a fear that his cancer had returned. That fear would be confirmed the following month when Ethan and his family learned the cancer was back, and it had spread everywhere. The entire family would end up flying to New York City for treatment in an attempt to save his life. Sadly I watched from afar as Ethan’s condition rapidly deteriorated and my friends lost their precious son at the age of nine. It was devastating to his entire family. The pain of losing a child is unimaginable. Ethan’s life had touched so many who were affected by his loss, including me. It felt like I had lost one of my own family members.

jostad-family-joe-and angela-1st-visitEven though we were separated by more than 3,000 miles, the Jostads living in Oregon and I residing in Florida, I remained in contact with the family through it all and continued to send love and support to them after Ethan passed away. We kept in contact and later I volunteered to help with the newly established foundation named after Ethan by providing help with graphic design and with administering the foundation Facebook page. In May of 2012 our friendship took another leap when I decided to travel to Oregon to visit the Jostad family. Finally we would meet in person after communicating with each other for over a year online. I was headed to Eagle Point to play in the 1st annual Ethan Jostad Foundation charity golf tournament, but more importantly I was on my way to meet the family I had grown to love from afar.

When I stepped off the plane in Medford, Oregon it felt like I was coming home. I was greeted by Kim and her friend Emily at the airport. When I gave Kim a hug it felt like I had known her forever. It was one of those “don’t let go” hugs you give to a family member who you haven’t seen in years. I finally met Chris, their son Tanner, and daughter Ella, and it was amazing. I stayed with Debbie, Kim’s mother, and her husband Troy for the next few days and was treated with such kindness and compassion. The Jostad’s family and friends were the nicest and most caring people I had ever met. Towards the end of my trip it became apparent to me that Oregon would one day be my home and I wasn’t ready to leave yet. We said our parting words, but in the back of my mind I knew one day that I’d be back, I just didn’t know how soon that would happen.

ejf-golf-tournament-1st-yearTwo months later, in September of 2012, while still living in Florida I was asked to join the Board of Directors of the Ethan Jostad Foundation. For the first time ever I felt like I was finally making a difference in the world. We were providing love, hope and support to the lives of children and their families who were dealing with cancer. The Jostad family understood childhood cancer from the perspective of parents and siblings, and I understood cancer from the perspective of a patient.

In February of 2013 I made a decision that would forever change my life and that of my family. I decided to move from sunny South Florida across the country to Roseburg, Oregon so that I could be closer to the people I had grown to love as family and to help lead the Ethan Jostad Foundation further towards helping more children and families fighting cancer. My parents, who I have always enjoyed a close relationship with and who had taken care of me during my battle with cancer, would soon follow suit and relocate a year later to nearby Myrtle Creek, Oregon.

It was love that took me from one coast of the country to the other. The love of a Survivor for others who are experiencing what I have already conquered. The love and support for children and their families as they come face-to-face with one of the most terrifying diseases one can imagine. The love of a beautiful state and its community of people who are nothing short of amazing in their abundance of kindness and compassion. None of this would have happened, however, if it were not for the love of one child taken too soon and his family who have come to mean the world to me.

As Ethan’s Grandmother said to me one time, “This all happened because of Ethan,” and she was so right.


What about you?  Has love inspired you to move in a way that your logic would never allow?  Let’s hear it!  Comment below and let’s inspire one another.

  • Jami Thomas

    I remember many of these milestones of this journey through our friendship :)

  • Suzanne Shelpman

    A bond and love that spanned the distance, brought you together, and changed your life….for the good. Your words are bittersweet. Love to you, Joe, and the Jostad family.

  • Terressa Volkers

    Joe, you are an awesome man. Your parents must be very proud of the man they raised. Tears streamed down my face while reading your post. I was instantly connected because my own grandson Wes is fighting relapsed neuroblastoma and it is all too familiar. Im so happy for you and agree with Suzanne that your situation was bittersweet. If not for Ethan then you may not be where you are today. You are such an encouragement to many and an advocate for all cancer fighters. I hope your life is blessed in many ways.