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‘It’s the life in your years’

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Coosa High graduate Fernando Guzman stands with his "school mamas" Sherry Agan (from left), Beth Wade, Charman Putnam and Lila Culberson. (Photo contributed by Charman Putnam)

Editor’s note: This is a story written by Coosa High graduate Fernando Guzman documenting his battle with disease. He died Sunday afternoon. The last paragraph is written by Lila Culberson, who assisted him with his academics in high school and developed a lasting bond with him.

My amazing story started Feb. 14, 2011, when I found out I had Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in my left knee.

I was okay with having cancer because I knew the Lord was going to take care of me. Then on May 23, 2011, my doctor came in my room and asked my mom if she could step out so they could talk. About 10 minutes later my mom came back in the room trying to not show that she had been crying. The doctor then gave me the news that I would need to get my leg amputated, and I cried my eyes out.

I honestly thought my whole life was over. On May 26, I had my surgery and after the surgery, I went into a bad depression. It was so bad that I needed a feeding tube because I wouldn't even eat. Months went by and with the amazing support from friends and family, I got through it and went on to survive cancer...well, at least I thought.

I went for a check up on April 28, 2012, and the doctor gave me bad news again telling me that I had cancer in my right lung. I went into surgery on May 4, 2012, and it was successful. Then the same thing happened the following year.

After basically fighting cancer three times, I started to enjoy life a lot more because after all the mess I had gone through, you kind of wonder how long you have left. It wasn’t until July 5 of 2015, when I had broken my left arm from falling that I found out I had cancer again.

I did chemotherapy four times before we did surgery for a bone transplant and just when I thought I was going to be fine and still be able to keep my left arm, the doctor told me that I still had tissue around the metal rod that had cancer in it.

So, without even thinking about it, I told him cut it off and he did the next day. I only amputated my arm hoping the cancer wouldn’t come back, but with my luck IT DID.

On Feb. 24, 2016, I found out I had cancer for the fifth time. This time I made the choice to not cure it because simply I was tired of fighting. So, I was given 3-6 months to live.

Eighteen months later I am sitting here writing my story. Just recently, I was at St. Jude’s and was told that I had a blood clot and a tumor in an artery going into my heart.

You are probably asking how can someone be so strong? My answer would be, I still have things to accomplish in this life. I want to make a difference in other people’s lives by my example of strength, determination, and overcoming against all odds.

My fight with cancer has been long and hard, but it has made me the person I am today. So, for that, I am grateful. I was involved in all of the activities at Coosa and was even voted Most School Spirit and Prom King. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow, so I intend to live my life to the fullest and continue giving back to others through my experiences and my never give up example.

I overcame cancer six times, have the chance to be the first in my family to go to college, and I want to work in the medical community to show others fighting cancer that anything is possible.

One thing I am most proud of is the Fernando’s Warrior Award. This is a scholarship I started in my name that is given to one or two individuals at Coosa High School who have had to overcome obstacles in their life to get to where they are now. They receive $500 dollars toward tuition at either a two or four-year college or technical college. I had the opportunity to present this award in 2016 and 2017.

My plans had been to go to college to become an oncologist. I can understand the fear and the results of battling cancer. I thought, who better to take care of people than someone who has experienced it.

Due to my continued fight with cancer, I still plan to work in the medical community because I feel that I have a lot to offer in this area. It may be as a nurse or in a counseling profession, but my plan remains to help others fighting this battle and hope that one day everyone fighting cancer can be cured.

Fernando’s fight ended on Jan. 7, 2018. He was an inspiration to everyone who met him and although his time on Earth was short, he lived every moment to the fullest. He always said, “I am always ready for a challenge.”

I believe Abraham Lincoln said it best and is so true for Fernando: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”