Joel Vazquez

The news of my son Joel’s diagnosis is still hard to absorb — let alone understand – and it’s been months since he died.

At the start of his third year at Texas A&M University, the Midline Glioma or DIPG symptoms started just as he was ready to take on the world with grand plans to save the planet one habitat at a time. He was going to do it alongside the sweet and intelligent young woman he loved, also a student at A&M.

My son was glorious. Twenty years old, strong, growing into his own both in physique and in confidence. His hands were never idle — threading lacrosse heads, tying fishing flies, making habitats for birds, bees and fish, finding fishing holes, teaching his friends to fish, perfecting his fishing techniques. His best days were the ones when he would drive his Tacoma to the beach or lake, fish out of his kayak, and enjoy the sunset. On October 1, 2021, this changed.

From Day One of his diagnosis, Joel displayed an incomprehensible acceptance of his circumstances. He only asked one thing of us — his family — that we take it one day at a time with him. You see, he was blessed with this kind of maturity from the minute he was born.



That first day in the ER with the symptoms, he gave us the best compliment parents can receive from their child – and he was our only child. He told us that he had heard many of his friends tell sad stories about their growing up and when it came time for him to share his, he did not have a single bad or sad story to tell them about his life up to that point. But in the ER he had realized what he was facing and said, “it looks like this is going to be my hard story” he said.

What emerged over the next two difficult and painful years was a man who, after receiving a terminal diagnosis, found the wisdom to separate his joy from his circumstances. He had this incredible ability to throw his head back and laugh — laugh that came so easy even in the hardest of times.

He would not let his spirit be crushed and found the tenacity to continue with school until his hands could no longer type. He found even more tenacity to wake up every morning with a smile and the courage to take on the day — even as his vision failed, he could no longer walk, no longer feel his hands and feet, experienced his speech becoming incomprehensible. This tumor eventually impacted all of his motor functions. But through all that loss, he was always joyful and smiling. His adventurous spirit and love of nature remained true to the very end.

At one point at the end of year one, he asked, “What comes next? Where would he go when he died?” That is when he reached out and opened up to know God better. He found Faith — the real, mature kind that brings hope and gratefulness.

We saw our child transform into this fantastic, complete man independent of his body’s betrayal. He made all his own medical decisions until his very last hour on September 18, 2023. Even in that, he loved and protected us. He never questioned or complained of this fate, not to me – his mom — not even once.

By the time Joel had reached the age of twenty-two, he had experienced more bad news and loss than many seasoned adults will ever know. The wisdom, humor, and courage that defined this lovely human, I cannot fully understand. Pride fills my heart for his selfless act of donating his brain to find answers for this condition, a decision he made the day he turned twenty-one and could sign the papers. It gave him purpose and certainty and a sense of accomplishment that he could still be of help.

I am privileged to be the mother and friend of this humble, joyful, and courageous man. He leaves a lasting impact on me and everyone he knew — the kind that encourages and lifts our spirits long after he is gone from our sight.

· Janina Vazquez, mother of Joel Vazquez (b. April 4, 2001, d. September 18, 2023)


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