U.S. woman helps B.C. cancer patient realize travel dream
Published Sunday, June 10, 2012 10:10AM EDT
When a 23-year-old Surrey, B.C. man wrote about his cancer diagnosis and posted his story to a social media site, he figured users might be compelled to respond with similar tales of their own.
But he ended up with tens of thousands of dollars in donations from strangers to realize a dream: to travel around the world.
"Hello Reddit," began Jake Villanueva in his post. "I'm 23 years old, and on Father's Day 2011, I was diagnosed with stage 4 renal cell carcinoma."
Villanueva told the story of his disease, which is a form of kidney cancer that begins in the lining of the small tubes of the kidney. He was 22 when he was diagnosed, and was given just six months to live.
"When you're told you have a terminal disease, you can never work again, you basically have to come home and live with your parents: Can you imagine at 22 what that must feel like?" Jake's mother Stacey Villanueva said in an interview with CTV British Columbia.
"It feels like your world has stopped. And I see that the world hasn't stopped."
Jake's story inspired thousands of comments and messages from Reddit users, who vote on their favourite submissions. Villanueva's post got so many votes it was pushed up to the top of the site's rankings and caught the eye of a user in Portland, Oregon.
"(I saw) how he really wanted to go on one big last trip, and he also mentioned something about how he's not sure how far or where he'd be able to go," Lindsay Minar told CTV B.C. "So I thought, ‘Well why can't we just help him get there?'"
Minar opened a bank account for donations, and within 24 hours a whopping $30,000 had poured in from 1,200 donors.
"I was just stunned," Stacey Villanueva said.
Jake Villanueva was so overwhelmed he asked Minar to close the account, saying he has more than enough money to realize his travel dreams.
He plans to travel to New York, and also hopes to visit the many Reddit users who have offered him a place to stay.
"Every continent, yeah," he said when asked where he would like to go. "Absolutely."
One Reddit user has offered to let Jake drive his Lamborghini if he makes it to Switzerland.
Ultimately, his travel plans will be determined by his health. He has only one kidney now, and must take daily chemotherapy pills, which leave him with nausea and headaches.
While he admits his prognosis is "not very good at all," he is buoyed by the fact that he has already passed his doctors' expectations.
As he told CTV British Columbia: "Last year maybe I wouldn't have thought that I'd be sitting here having this interview a year later with you."
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Penny Daflos