founder Jeff Castelaz honors his son’s memory by fighting pediatric cancer.
BY JEFF CASTELAZ
2008 was a Saturday. It was the day I turned 37. My life was great,
until about 6 p.m. when I
noticed a bulge in my four-year-old son Pablo’s abdomen. That’s where my
family’s cancer story began. A few hours later, my wife Jo Ann and I were in
the emergency room at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles with Pablo and heard
those words nobody wants to hear: Your son has cancer.
I can’t say or type those words without weeping.
But I have to tell you. Why? Because those words changed my
life. When I heard them, I felt like the entire world fell away and it was just
the three of us, all alone, with no direction or connection to anything. That’s
the feeling many cancer parents have when they hear those words. Cold, harsh
loneliness. Suddenly: I am apart from everyone else on earth.
It was that feeling, and many others just like it, that
pushed me and Jo Ann to start The Pablove
Foundation a few weeks later. We felt compelled to raise a flag, so that
all could see ‘CHILDHOOD CANCER’ flying in their faces. And so people all
around the world could hear our voices and experience what we were going
through, as parents of that one in 300 kids who was diagnosed with cancer.
When Jo Ann came up with the name Pablove, we knew we had a
long list of friends and friends of friends who wanted to donate somewhere in
Pablo’s name. With Jo Ann’s background as a music video producer and mine as
the co-founder of the record and management company Dangerbird Records, we
figured we could put our professional skills to better use than they’d even
been put to by becoming pediatric cancer advocates. We’d spent our adult lives
advocating for directors, bands and record producers. Why not put our efforts
and our big mouths to a higher use: joining the cancer conversation. Joining
the race to find a cure for cancer.
Pablo’s cancer journey lasted 13 months and 10 days. He was
a beacon of strength, joy and playfulness, grace and a humor I longed to see
develop over a good many years. On June 21, 2009 Pablo turned six. Just six days later, on
June 27, he stopped breathing as his big brother Grady and Jo Ann and I held
him in our arms at home. Nothing will ever make me feel so shattered, so
lonely, so empty. I miss Pablo every second of very day. I ache for him to be
back at my side.
Last October, I flew from Los Angeles to St Augustine, Florida.
When I got there, I got on my bike, and rode back to LA, ending at Pablo’s
grave. I was compelled to do this: to show Pablo I could keep fighting for him;
to stand up for the kids and families who were still in the trenches all over
the world; to try and find myself apart from the daunting, crippling life of a
cancer dad who went to war in defense of his son and lost the very person he
was rallying to save.
As I crossed the United States, I ripped a page out
of the DIY notebook from my teenage years, the same notebook I looked back on
when we started Dangerbird in 2003. Immediately, it was clear that my advocacy
was reaching peoples’ hearts in the music, cycling and pediatric cancer
communities. YouTube vlogs, blogs posts on The Pablog, and the usual web of
social media tools-had a power and a value not only to me in my grief, but to
others. For a start, it brought dignity to countless cancer families around the
world as I dedicated each day’s ride to a fighting cancer kid, and each night to
a child who had not made it.
I asked people to contribute to Pablove. People started to
listen. The music community around Dangerbird rallied around. The cycling
community by the time I got to LA, Pablove had 225,000 more weapons in its
arsenal. All 30 days I was out there crossing America, I talked to Pablo, felt
him in my heart, imagined what he’s be saying to me. Every day when I’m on my
bike, I talk to Pablo. I feel him behind me, like he always was, on his
‘connect bike,’ the silver trail bike that was bolted to the seat post on my
1978 Eddy Merckx. If this sounds crazy to you, I hope you never have to imagine
your child talking to you. It’s daunting, crippling.
Some days, when I am hurting to the point of my spirit
snapping in half, I wonder, ‘Why do anything? Why not just hide away and fade
If we did, nobody would blame us.
Thing is, Jo Ann and I don’t have the ‘fade away’ muscle in
our bodies. We thrive on community, connection, interdependence. It’s just the
way we’re programmed. We don’t want to be back on that lonely island. We don’t
want anyone to have to be on that island. That’s why a big thrust of The
Pablove Foundation is dedicated to something that actually costs no money:
connection, community-building, and the broadcast of hope. Cancer is a disease
of isolation. Our aim is to crack the facade of that isolation.
When I’m thinking clearly, I understand that if we did stop
pushing forward, we would be selling ourselves short. Many people who have lost
children to cancer feel that their child was meant to be here only that short
amount of time. Hearing an outsider say that is crushing. But hearing it from
someone who is on their own isolated island, I understand the notion.
For us, The Pablove Foundation’s work is a way for us to
share our experience and strength. It’s also a way for us to continue our
parenting of Pablo.
BLURT says, simply:
Pablove Foundation. Please give, and get involved. Watch the trailer for
Pablove Across America at the link
[Pictured above, L-R: Rick Babington, Fred Gillich, Jeff
Castelaz, Stan Barrett]