Joey Tripp, 32, has received more than his fair share of honors. He graduated with honors and was a “Senior Superlative” at Dodge County High School in Eastman, near his hometown of Yonkers. In 2003, he received the National Young Adult Volunteer of the Year from the American Healthcare Association. While attending Middle Georgia State College for his Associates degree in Science, he received the 2006 Service and Leadership Award. Working towards his Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Georgia Southern University, he was named “Volunteer of the Year,” having donated 1,309 hours of his time, and he was editor of the GSC Core newspaper. The first in his family to attend The University of Georgia and earn a graduate degree, Joey was once again recognized for his involvement: he was selected for the prestigious UGA Graduate School’s Emerging Leader’s Program, and was named a UGA “Amazing Student.”
But, there’s one title that Joey would gladly forego: childhood cancer survivor. His cancer journey started when he was only 10-years-old, in 1995, some 40 surgeries ago. The lump on his leg that quickly grew to the size of a grapefruit turned out to be stage 4 osteosarcoma and he was given 6 months to live. After three months of chemotherapy, the tumor was removed in August 1995. He spent most of the next several years at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – three hours away from home. Throughout that 7-year battle, he relapsed four times, with cancer impacting his leg, his lung and his spine.
Although several celebrities visited him at Egleston Children’s Hospital, it was the visit of the volunteer who took the time to befriend him and play video games that stuck with him. Once he was back on his feet, he threw himself into volunteer activities.
At UGA’s Institute for Nonprofit Organizations, he volunteered as a nonprofit consultant with several classmates to help local organizations with fundraising, grant writing, volunteer coordination, event planning and program evaluation. He worked with the Piedmont Rape Crisis Center in Winder, the Jackson County Habitat for Humanity in Commerce, and the Pulaski Tomorrow’s Youth Leadership Development program in Hawkinsville. In Athens, he volunteered with the Humane Society, the Farmer’s Market and the Boybutante AIDS Foundation. During the summer, he was a volunteer intern evaluating a Leader-In-Training program at Camp Twin Lakes in Winder, where he had the opportunity to work with children with a variety of illnesses and disorders.
“Social isolation is a side effect of childhood cancer that had a big impact on me. For six years, I was insulated from my peers. The local hospital didn’t have a children’s cancer center, so I was hours from home. I had to complete school at home or the hospital through the hospital homebound program. With a compromised immune system, I couldn’t be around other kids because I might catch an infectious disease,” he says. As a kid, hardly understanding what was happening to him, it took time and family support to accept this new reality. One bright spot was the summer camp program at Camp Sunshine, which contributed to his mental and social recovery.
Once recovered, Joey got involved in volunteering to make friends and give back to the community that gave him and his family so much support. His volunteer work has left a lasting mark on the communities he has served and it defined his future career: he became a master’s student in nonprofit organization management. Today, he is a Development Officer for the American Red Cross office and volunteers for Rotary Club of Gainesville.
Joey’s life is a product of his journey. He experienced the power and impact that you can have on someone in need, and he hopes to have that same effect. “I believe my battle with cancer has given me the unique ability to understand pain, challenges, fears, and anxiety that others may be experiencing in their life. I think it’s made me a stronger, more empathetic and well-rounded person. By working with a nonprofit whose mission he supports, he feels that he can pay it forward by helping more people to succeed in life.
For newly diagnosed cancer patients, he has several suggestions:
· Ask as many questions as possible so that you can fully understand what is being prescribed for you.
· Have candid, open communications with your doctor, and choose one who really listens to you.
· Take charge of your medical care. Keep up with your own medical records. For a child with cancer, this information is vital with potential long-term effects of chemotherapy or surgery.
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