Jerome Frendo will this week launch the Puttinu football marathon, after missing it last year when he was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in as many years.
But that is the only plan the 19-year-old has made, as he has decided to live day by day.
“As they say, il-kelb il-mismut, kull ilma jaħsbu misħun (once bitten, twice shy), and in my case I was bitten twice. But I cannot spend every day worrying about the following day. I woke up today, so I do what I can do today. No one has seen tomorrow,” Mr Frendo said.
Nearing the start of his first year at sixth form, Mr Frendo was 16 when he first felt pain in his right calf.
However, it was put down to muscle strain which was treated by a physiotherapist. But the pain intensified.
When the swell in his leg grew the size of a handball and the pain kept him up throughout the whole night, a doctor ordered an MRI.
Cancer was the last thing on Mr Frendo’s mind, but three weeks later he was diagnosed with a rare cancer – Ewing sarcoma in his right fibula.
He started a series of six chemotherapy cycles at Sir Paul Boffa Hospital, as he was already aged 16 and could not receive treatment at Mater Dei Hospital’s Rainbow Ward.
But during the third round he caught a chest infection that landed him at the Rainbow Ward after being admitted to A&E.
That is where Mr Frendo first met the team behind Puttinu Cares, which he believes has not only helped him financially and materially, but also psychologically.
I thought I had won back my life and could continue my studies
Apart from the chemotherapy, he also underwent an operation in the UK.
“I remember telling my father to take a good look at me as I was going in with two legs, but I could come out with one. I was already trying to figure out how I was going to go down the stairs with one leg, or play football.”
Mr Frendo had his knee replaced and some tissue removed, but he did not lose his leg.
Following another eight cycles of chemotherapy once back in Malta, he started off a new life in 2015.
“Or so I thought… but my back started aching in February. It wasn’t similar to my previous leg pain, as it only hurt when I crouched. The doctors also believed it was bad posture.
“I thought I had won back my life and could continue my studies. I had started off wanting to study law, but I changed plans and was now aiming for social work with children. I also started growing a beard, after having lost all my hair to chemo,” he joked.
Mr Frendo started helping Puttinu raise funds and he was meant to launch the 2015 marathon that was being held a week before his birthday.
But the pain kept growing and just three days before the marathon, he was told he had a tumour close to his spine.
“The first thought that went through my mind was: wasn’t a year enough? Why do I have to go through this again?
“I missed the launch, and that was a big blow for me. The first thing I did when I turned 18 was throw up, but it was still the best birthday I’ve had so far as I was surrounded by family, friends and Puttinu carers.
“We were later informed that had I not been diagnosed for another two weeks, I could have been paralysed,” Mr Frendo added.
He had to receive another 12 chemotherapy cycles and radiotherapy in the UK, where his family stayed at one of Puttinu’s apartments. For Mr Frendo, it was like a second home, equipped with all amenities including Maltese TV channels and a Maltese landline.
He was given the all clear in March of this year.
“I’m positive, but also realistic. You cannot control your life, and when you‘re diagnosed with cancer, the only option you have is to either accept and fight it or bang your head against the wall.
“Either way, you’ll still have cancer, so I chose the first option,” the young man added.
The 12th edition of the Puttinu Cares marathon will be held between Friday and Sunday at the Marsa Sports Complex.
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