Fernando Morales died January 16 in Norwood, Massachusetts. He had achieved his dream of attending the Olympics in London, though not his dreams of seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland or visiting castles in Germany. He was 20 years old.
In a set of Moleskine notebooks, Fernando kept his life lists: dream vacations, future professions, college assignments, hours of the day for pain medication, and days of the week for chemotherapy. Lists were the perfect form of expression for him; he loved to write, but hated to edit.
Fernando was quick in everything he did: a quick writer, a quick runner — as a child, he pretended to be a cheetah. Expectations were that his swiftness on the freshman high-school soccer team would increase in sophomore year on the track team. Instead, he noticed that everyone was running past him. For months, he assumed his knee pain was a sports injury.
The knee pain was Ewing’s sarcoma. He met the news with plans. First of all, he meant to return to the soccer field. Down the road, he intended to be an architect or a librarian, or a geologist, and, for certain, a millionaire. This cancer diagnosis at 16 was just an impediment, holding his plans up. Over the next year, there was chemotherapy every two weeks, and 31 terrible rounds of radiation before the sarcoma went into remission. The tolls of treatment were high.
Yet Fernando found time for opportunity, whether it was the Olympics or a trip to Red Sox spring training. After the sarcoma recurred, he worked on the yearbook and attended senior prom — all the milestones of movement through high school. He managed a semester of college, too, which thrilled him.
Though he’d been a shy child, Fernando instinctively knew how to set others at ease on a devastating subject. “I can walk, I can laugh, I can smile,” he said — and did, with charm. He gave many interviews, and in one, he guided the uncomfortable interviewer, who’d been hesitating to ask him about the side-effects of chemotherapy.
It was as if the interviewer were the delicate one requiring care, and Fernando the willing one prepared to give it. He was matter of fact, explanatory, encouraging. “I’m a normal kid just going through these circumstances,” he said. “Cancer brought out the best in me.”
Still, he was alive to his losses. He wished he could have seen his sister and cousins grow, and would have liked to travel to Italy for the food. He wanted to know what he would become, besides a millionaire, and had begun studying art in college. He never made complaints, but he did make honest notes. “If you have a choice,” he wrote in a Moleskine book, “protect yourself from cancer.”
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