As a father, police officer and motivational speaker, Juan’s days consist of helping people, which requires a lot of strength. His herculean build and inspirational words embolden the more than 22,000 people who follow him on Instagram, as they turn to him to learn how to become the best version of themselves.
But despite his bold appearance and powerful fan base, Juan says it’s his 12-year-old son, Elijah, who gives him the most strength to take on each day.
As a four-year-old, he was diagnosed with a Medulloblastoma brain tumor. After the first tumor was resected in a five-and-a-half-hour surgery, doctors found four more on his spine. Some of the tumors were very small, and doctors were unable to remove them. So, Elijah began high doses of radiation and chemotherapy.
Surgeries and treatments have left him without many nerve ending connections, which has also damaged the bone in his inner ear, severely affecting his hearing.
“His hair is still thin, bald in a lot of places, and his ventricular shunt protrudes the top of his skull just underneath the skin with the tube visible running down the side of his neck into his stomach,” Juan says. “His muscles are rigid, he’s prone to overheating, and sensitive to cold temperatures.”
But it’s been seven years after his last treatment, Juan says, and Elijah’s spirit and drive for life is strong. His son, he says, is what keeps him strong and gives him the strength to support his child each time he faces a health challenge.
“You can tell he just wants to be a boy, a boy with the other boys,” he says. “So I help encourage confidence and strength in him by reminding him he’s just like all of the other boys…but with superpowers to beat cancer.”
“I help encourage confidence and strength in him by reminding him he’s just like all of the other boys…but with superpowers to beat cancer.”
Elijah, who was once the shy-kid in class, has been gaining confidence and strength, through his dad’s powers, along with the power of hearing technology.
“Once he was able to begin hearing again with hearing aids, he began to improve dramatically in his developmental learning and would volunteer to help other kids in his class,” Juan says. “Elijah is not shy at home by any means, but it was comforting to see him not only come out of his shell socially, but to know he was able to hear the sounds and frequencies he needed to hear in order to learn.”
“Once he was able to begin hearing again with hearing aids, he began to improve dramatically
Throughout his son’s journey, Juan says he also relies on the strength and advice of other parents and doctors who have the knowledge to help his son grow. But to do that, he first had to give up some power and be vulnerable enough to ask the questions he didn’t have the answers to.
“In the beginning of Elijah’s journey, I didn’t ask a lot of questions,” he says. “But asking questions is what led us to the hearing aids that Elijah is now wearing, which is one of the main reasons why he is able to be himself.”
That, he says, is the strongest reminder that despite the years of uncertainties and hardships for his son, their mental strength, and support – through technology and other people – helps them both persevere.
“I honestly don’t think I could form the correct words in one sentence, paragraph, or novel to adequately describe how my son and the experiences with him during his journey have changed my perspective on life,” he says. “I’ve run into the hospital with him in my arms as he was going in and out of consciousness, not knowing what to do for him or what was going to happen. He’s had 17 surgeries, endured some of the worst pain a child could ever endure, and has the physical reminders of what has happened to him. But he does one thing every day that reminds me of what life is about … he smiles.
“…he does one thing every day that reminds me of what life is about…he smiles.”
Juan says that a local school has an award in his son’s name, which they give to the student that displays the most mental toughness during a two-week training session he runs.
“I’d like to think that is who he is at the core,” he says. “mental toughness.”