Where does one begin when setting out to beseech a community for help? I suppose it begins with a faith which recognizes that though we do not always have the answers to our problems or the means to overcome them alone, the way will be revealed to us through grace as love from others lends strength to our steps moving forward. It is bolstered by the hope that you, as you read this, are one of the multitude of unsung heroes that live within this community who nurture it, protect it, build it, heal it, minister to it and define its best self. I call upon you all now, asking humbly, to help one of our own who is in need of your love and support.
Joe Agustin is one of you, one of us. A resident of Hampton Roads for over thirty years and in every way a true member of “Community”. As I thought about how to share with you the story of Joe Agustin and why he now needs your help, I first had to decide how I would share with you who the man behind the name is. I could tell you about his life as an ordained minister and servant of God, living his faith every day through countless relationships with a heart for people and the desire to lift them up. I can share how he and his wife, the mother of his three children, continually open their home to host Bible study groups and sustain fellowship. I could highlight how he has served our military men and women through his time at Camp Elmore as a Firearms Instructor, training and teaching them how to defend themselves and through them, how to defend us here at home. It would be worth sharing that his support of those dedicated to a life of service extends also to the men and women of the Norfolk Police Department, serving as a Chaplain for the department for several years, not from the sidelines but in the patrol cars and shoulder to shoulder with them from roll call to end of watch. This is a man of faith, a man of principle, a man for others. A man who is a faithful and loving husband to his wife, a dedicated and beloved father of three, a doting and attentive grandfather, an honest and loyal friend to any and all who have had the fortune to have him in their life, a vibrantly active member of a community that he serves and cherishes. A man who greets you warmly, his soft but steady voice inquiring about how you are, how life is going, how your family is doing. Even as his body is being attacked, even as his health is savagely set upon by cancer. As he gingerly sets himself back into his hospital bed he shoots you that Agustin smile, putting you at ease even though it is he that suffers. You can’t help but smile back, though he may not see it, because it is hidden behind the mask that you now have to wear in his presence due to the risk as he is immunocompromised. He puts you before himself, he is the best parts of us, of community.
A man who commits himself to a life of praying for and serving others is one that does not instinctively ask for himself. Which is where I believe we come in. Joe Agustin has been monitoring a form of anemia for the past few years, which within the last year converted to MDS, or Myelodysplastic Syndrome. This is rare as it is, with less than 200,000 cases reported each year, but unfortunately for Joe it was complicated by the fact that his MDS was atypical in its rate of progression. His condition means that his bone marrow / stem cells do not create enough red blood cells. However, the problem for Joe is compounded further due to his refractory anemia, which means that a percentage of his white blood cells that are produced are cancerous. These cancerous cells reproduce more cancerous cells, which diminish the production of red blood cells. If you read up on MDS you will also read about AML, which is Acute Myeloid Leukemia. There is a classification system that determines when MDS converts to AML, based on percentages. Simply put, 17-18% is about the marker for MDS conversion to AML. Joe’s body was galloping toward this conversion, rating at 14-15%. At the beginning of this arduous journey Joe required blood transfusions every month and a half. Very quickly this became every week and a half. Joe needed a stem cell transplant, but the odds of finding a match are incredibly high. An acceptable donor was not found. While waiting to find a donor, Doctors determined that in order to attempt to control the MDS Joe had to go through multiple cycles of chemotherapy. Toward the end of last year, about late October, a bone marrow biopsy revealed that the chemotherapy had little effect on the cancerous cells. It was also discovered that he had developed another form of blood cancer called Myelofibrosis. His body was converting to AML. Joe was told that without a stem cell transplant he had approximately 8 months to live. Due to the fact that they could not find a full match for donor cells Joey Agustin, Joe’s eldest and his only son, acted as his donor. Joey was only a fifty percent match, not the strongest option but the only one available. Considering all that his body has fought through, he has been handling the treatments well, but the fight is far from over. Joe will have to remain in Richmond for the next 4-6 months depending on his progress. This has been an ongoing battle for Joe and the entire Agustin family. He is being treated at VCU in Richmond, over several weeks now. This means that the family has had to find housing in the Richmond area, taking turns travelling back and forth to ensure that family is always with Joe. They have had to take leave from work, struggle with the financial burden of maintaining dual housing, to include travel and expenses and that doesn’t begin to touch the balance for the medical expenses that insurance falls short of covering.
In short, this family could use our help. They wouldn’t ask this of you themselves, not because of pride or stubbornness, but because they would never want to burden anyone else. I believe we have an opportunity to uplift a man, and a family, that has done so much for so many. I join with others like me who have been directly impacted by this wonderful man in asking for your support and provision during this time of hardship for the Agustin family. They have lived their lives “paying it forward”, perhaps we now can rally around them to give just a little back so that the family can concentrate on healing and being together. Thank you for taking the time to read this humble request for Joe Agustin and for any assistance you may be able to provide. Even if you are unable to donate, please consider visiting ‘bethematch.org’ and learn how you may be able to literally help save the life of someone like Joe by joining the national registry of donors. Every little bit helps and will go directly to the medical and associated expenses of Joe’s battle with his cancer. Thank you all, and as Mr. Agustin would be sure to say, God bless you.