By Andrew Noriega
Usually, a story has a hero, a nemesis and a “happily ever after” ending. In order to tell my story I want you to know more about the main character, my personal hero and boyfriend, Dave. He has over 16 years in the U.S. Marine Corps; he is retired from a small police department in New Jersey; he was a volunteer fire chief and a paramedic. He was a part of the Ground Zero “rescue/recovery” team a couple of days after 9/11. He’s even a bagpiper and has performed for countless memorial services and never once has he asked to be compensated. In his words, “It’s the least I can do. It would be my honor.”
Dave and I met through mutual friends on Facebook and began communicating on line and on the phone for the next six months. Then he made me an offer to fly me from my home town of L.A. out to his in New Jersey to take me to National Police Week in May, 2011. I accepted! It was the most honorable and moving event I had ever attended, and to top it off, I fell in love! Since then Dave and I have spent our time flying back and forth from our homes. We made plans for him to move to LA with his 10 year old son by the end of 2012. And in spring we planned to celebrate our first anniversary at the annual National Police Week in Washington, D.C.
Unbeknownst to me, Dave was planning to propose marriage. This is where the nemesis came into play. A week prior to my visit, Dave was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My world had fallen apart right before my eyes. I felt hopeless. After the diagnosis we both didn’t want to pretend everything was simply okay, so we postponed the engagement. Dave began treatment in Philadelphia. Back in Los Angeles, I feel into a deep depression and felt so useless to him. I started doing research online to see what the prognosis was and that was a HUGE mistake! Everything I read only pushed me further into my depression. I kept thinking, “Why would God allow me to fall in love with a man that’s 2,740 miles away and then a year later he wants to take him away from me.” I continued researching information, support groups or anything that would give me some sense of hope. That is when I discovered the LA Cancer Challenge and the Hirshberg Foundation!
Without hesitation I signed up to participate in this 5K/10K in Dave’s honor. When my co-workers found out, they encouraged me to raise money and start a team. Initially I set my goal at $250, but I found myself increasing it to $1,500. As LACC fundraising began to wrap up, I’d raised over $1,900! I was hoping to have at least 25-30 team members and then I surpassed that goal and found that Dave’s Wolf Pack had grown 73 people strong!
Recently, Dave had been responding very well to treatments. The tumor shrunk a great deal and he’d made great progress. Then on October 24th we were told he’s in remission. For Dave, a lot of it is mental though- he’s a fighter, he’s stubborn and he’s determined. He’s Dave! He has always kept his faith in God and this is what keeps him grounded and focused on winning this battle. Now we’re working towards our “happily ever after.” Dave is truly the love of my life and he is my personal hero and I want to thank him for fighting, never giving up and always staying positive. By joining the Hirshberg Foundation at the LACC, my goal was to prevent at least one person from enduring what Dave has, and to help prevent a family from watching a loved one fight for their life. I’d like to thank the Foundation for being angels, helping me with my team and offering support in every possible way. I will always admire this man for opting to go through with his treatments and fighting to stay alive for his son and myself. He constantly reminds me that he has cancer and that the cancer doesn’t have him.
After the LACC, Dave wrote the following on his Facebook page:
“There have been days I just wanted to give up. It’s the love of Drea and my son Nick that keep me going. When Drea organized “Team Dave” for the LA Cancer Challenge, I saw all the love and support surrounding us. As some could see I simply couldn’t hold back the tears. I don’t think Drea knows just how special she really is and I have to say she truly is the love of my life. She has been my backbone through this journey and I love her with all my heart.” -Dave