Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera High School graduate Anthony Juarez crosses the stage during commencement ceremonies. Juarez graduated from Madera while enduring two bouts of Leukemia.
Anthony Juarez was a sophomore at Madera High School when he was diagnosed with Leukemia.
The devastating news forced the sophomore to make unexpected adjustments to his young life, causing him to take a break from school and to say goodbye to high school sports.
Despite the many difficult days in the past three years, Juarez still found a way to refocus on his school and enjoy some of his favorite hobbies in life. Today, he is a high school graduate with big plans for the future.
“It feels great. It’s very special just to graduate,” he said. “My dad also graduated from [Madera High], so it means a lot to me.”
Because of the coronavirus, Juarez took part in an unusual graduation in front of a small crowd. Still, it was a gratifying moment when he took the stage to receive his diploma.
“It felt a little weird, but at the same time, I was glad that we were even fortunate to do it,” the 2020 graduate said. “I know that not all schools are able to have graduation. Just the fact that we did something is what really matters.”
Juarez didn’t go to school for about a year after getting diagnosed with Leukemia. But he was still able to find success in school when he returned. During his senior year, however, Juarez was rediagnosed with Leukemia.
The Madera student found himself going to the hospital often during his senior year. On the days that he was feeling good, however, Juarez tried to focus on school.
“I know when I don’t feel good, I have no energy,” he said. “I’m not gonna be able to do anything, so I always try to do as much work as possible when I’m feeling good.”
The Madera High graduate said he stayed motivated during the difficult times because of the people around him.
“There were days where I didn’t feel good and some days I did feel good,” Juarez said. “But all I tried to do is try to push through it, stay positive with the help of my family, friends and the people at Madera High who helped me.”
Juarez’s biggest supporters include his parents, siblings and girlfriend.
“My girlfriend was always there, pushing me to do the best I could in school and in life,” he said.
The students and staff at Madera High made t-shirts to support Juarez and came up with a slogan: Fight Like Anthony.
“They were all supporting and rooting for me so I could graduate,” Juarez said.
The Madera graduate is especially grateful for the teachers who gave him extra time to finish his work.
“If I needed a couple of extra days to finish my work, I would just tell them,” he said. “If I needed help with something, I would just go to them. It helped a lot because I did really good in school.”
Earlier this year, Juarez received special recognition when Madera’s basketball team had its senior night.
“It was really a special moment because everybody was there,” he said.
Juarez played basketball during his freshman year and planned to play throughout high school. But his plans were derailed after being diagnosed.
“That was what I wanted to do, play basketball all four years of high school,” he said.
For the most part, Juarez is still able to do the activities that he has always enjoyed. But the disease has forced him to be extra cautious.
“I have to stay away from sick people in general, wash my hands, keep myself sanitized all the time,” he said.
Juarez also has to be careful about what he eats.
“I gotta make sure the food I eat is well-cooked,” the Madera native said.
The former student-athlete can still be found shooting hoops in his yard. He also loves to spend time with his family or play games with his friends.
His advice for others going through a similar challenge is to stay positive.
“Whenever you feel really low, keep telling yourself that everything is gonna be better,” he said. “One day, things are gonna be better.”
Juarez said he reminds himself that everything happens for a reason.
“We’re all put in this world for a purpose,” he said. “You can’t really run away from what’s expected to happen. It’s gonna happen with us wanting it or not.”
What’s next for Juarez? He plans to go to Madera Community College, then transfer to Fresno State and major in Kinesiology.
Even if life has taken him through an unexpected path, Juarez said he now has a bigger purpose.
“I was diagnosed with Leukemia. I can’t really change that,” he said. “I just gotta live with it. I gotta stay positive because I know that I have a bigger purpose. I know that I’m gonna do something in life and push forward.”