While most people his age were preparing for the future, 23-year-old Todd Blake was preparing for something else entirely: the end of his life. At 18, he'd been diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin's lymphoma. And even after "hundreds of hours of rigorous cancer treatments, months in hospitals and two bone marrow transplants," there was no sign of his cancer relenting. Todd had accepted that the disease "was going to kill him," he told the Florida Times-Union in 2014. But acceptance didn't mean giving up. Instead, Todd began living "in fast-forward mode." He married his high-school sweetheart, Maja, started the Live for Today Foundation to help young adults with cancer, and graduated with honors from the University of Florida. He and Maja even adopted a puppy, Louie. Todd wanted to make the most of whatever time he had left.
Recently, however, his story took an unexpected — and wonderful — turn. Early this year, he began treatment with a new drug that has shown promise in treating Hodgkin's disease. And Todd's cancer is now in remission, as the Times-Union reports in an update to his story. So now he's learning to live with the idea that he isn't going to die just yet. He's started thinking again about going to medical school, which was his plan before cancer derailed his plans. He tells us there's "no doubt" he'd lean toward "hematology oncology," where he could draw on his own experience as "a unique gift" to "help make the experience better for other patients."
That's something both he and Maja are already doing. Maja is a clinical trial coordinator at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, where Todd received much of his care. "Clinical trial coordinators helped us through many things," Maja says, adding that she chose to go into the field "to be an advocate for other patients and caregivers." So today, many of Todd's former caregivers are now her colleagues, and Maja says she feels "incredibly blessed" to work with them. "Everyone was amazing when Todd was in treatment, but now I'm seeing how amazing they really are, whether in front of a patient or not."
Todd remains active with the Live for Today Foundation, serving as president of the board. And he recently began working as a business development specialist at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center in Jacksonville. He says it's "truly meaningful" to "try to help others facing cancer." And he knows it's a job that requires many hands to do well. "From physicians and nurses, to researchers and schedulers, to environmental services and food workers, good health care is dependent upon everyone involved," Todd tells us. And he's "incredibly thankful to all who have and continue to play a part in mine."
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