Running Mates: How a Boy Overcame Cancer and Found a Lifelong Friend

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When 11-year-old DJ told his mother he was going to run a 5K, it didn’t take her long to realize that he meant it.

Some boys might make this claim on a whim. For DJ, it was different. He had lost a leg to cancer more than a year earlier and had only just started learning to walk again with his new prosthetic.

“I think I gave him a surprised look,” she said, and he replied, “Mom I‘m gonna do it. And I’m gonna do it next year.”

“In my mind, I thought, ‘OK, we’ve got a lot of work to get you running,’” his mom said. But they didn’t have to do it alone. His AdventHealth Sports Med and Rehab physical therapist, Trevor Hicks, was already building a connection with DJ that would help him break through his limits.

“Most of our time was spent on making a bond,” Hicks said. “I felt like the more he trusted me, the more I could get him to do.”

So they talked about things they shared in common, like superheroes and action movies. It was working; DJ says he has a “special bond” with Hicks.

“I have a true best friend,” he said. First, though, his life and his family’s life were turned upside down.

A Shocking Diagnosis

At first, DJ’s family thought his pain was caused by growing pains or a pulled muscle.

“We went back for the results of the MRI, and it was a massive tumor,” his mother says. They soon learned his leg would need to be amputated.

“When my Mom said, ‘You’re going to have to get your leg amputated,’ I was frozen in shock and fear,” he said, “because I didn’t want to, like, be an outcast, if that makes sense.”

His leg was amputated in 2017, but instead of casting him out, the people in his life pulled him closer in.

Race Day

As race day dawned, DJ was nervous about the task ahead of him. And as rain started pouring down, he wondered aloud whether he should quit.

But then Trevor and DJ’s other supporters rallied. As our video about DJ and Trevor shows, the team ran alongside him, chanting out “D” and “J,” helping him believe in himself.

DJ wore an ear-to-ear grin as he ran on his prosthetic leg. The results of the love and care he received were written on his face during the race.

“I was confident that I was going to finish,” he said. He embraced with his mother as they crossed the finish line together then turned to lean into Hicks’ shoulder.

“Watching him cross that finish line, words can’t express how it makes you feel,” his mother says.

DJ’s smile — and his ability to run the race — is our whole-person philosophy coming to life. For Hicks, it comes from empathy.

When he put himself in his patient’s shoes, Hicks said he would want every opportunity to meet his goals, including running a 5K. So Hicks did everything he could to get DJ across his own finish lines.

“That’s my hope on what has helped to make him successful, but I know most of it is just his personality and his drive,” Hicks says. “Being someone’s physical therapist for life means caring for the whole person from the very beginning” and reaching out to me “when you’re at the time of most need.”

We invite you to learn more about how our whole-person philosophy can help you recover from an injury or illness and thrive in body, mind and spirit.

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