by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Andrew Jons, a local recording artist, looked at me from across the table in a café where we met for coffee on December 21 and said, quietly, 'Twenty-one years ago, my best friend and baby brother lost his battle with leukemia.'
Now, you must understand: Andy never does anything quietly. He sings loud, he talks loud, and he is an out and proud, albeit loud, Gay man. This was a different Andy, an Andy I never expected to see.
The first time I met Andy I must admit I didn't remember much about him. It was in late November 2011 and my husband and I got this crazy idea to produce, direct, and star in a Seattle production of BARE: A Pop Opera. Casting was interesting, to say the least. Andy ultimately got cast as Zack, the jock. Zack is one of those characters who are there mainly to be seen, not heard. But as I stated before, 'not heard' isn't exactly Andy's specialty.
The first time we got together for rehearsal, more went wrong than went right. And Andy was on the ball - he filled in for other cast members who didn't show up and roles we couldn't cast, saying, 'I'll sing this part!' and 'I can help with that!'
He became a major part of the production with a minor role. That ain't easy, folks. And he stood out, too. Not by overacting or anything - he just naturally stands out. There's something special about Andy. I couldn't put my finger on it then. But after our conversation last Friday, I can tell you with a great deal of respect that it is not something special, but someone.
His name is Brandon.
Brandon was Andy's kid brother. He was lost to leukemia, or cancer of the blood cells.
It starts in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside most bones. Bone marrow is where blood cells are made. When you have leukemia, the bone marrow starts to make a lot of abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells. They don't do the work of normal white blood cells, they grow faster than normal cells, and they don't stop growing when they should.
Over time, leukemia cells can crowd out the normal blood cells. This can lead to serious problems such as anemia, bleeding, and infections. Leukemia cells can also spread to the lymph nodes or other organs and cause swelling or pain.
'In the very short time we had together, Brandon taught me so much about life,' said Andy. 'He taught me to laugh, to cherish every little moment as a blessing. He showed me how to be unafraid and how to take life's ups and downs in stride.'
'He was a daredevil long before I even dared to dream,' Andy said, showing the hint of a smile.
This is a man who clearly loves and cherishes the memory of his brother.
'This is my cause,' he then said, continuing, 'I have been so deeply affected by this disease.'
'It was horrible and tough and I wouldn't wish it on anybody.'
Leukemia is horrible. It is the leading cause of cancer death in children, accounting for about 33% of cancer cases among those aged 14 and under. An estimated 1,340 cancer deaths were expected to occur among this age group in 2012 - about one-third of them from leukemia.
'I have baggage and issues I'm still dealing with all these years later,' Andy admitted. 'But Brandon's death also showed me how precious life is, how it is never too late to change oneself. It taught me to embrace life, enjoy life, and be so thankful for all the loved ones I still have around me.'
JOIN TEAM ANDY
To honor Brandon's legacy, Andy is going to do something he never thought he could. He's going to run 13 miles in San Antonio, Texas, with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training.
'This is my cause,' he said, adding, 'How could I not run? There are no cons, only pros.'
Because Andy is always the one helping everyone else out, he admits, 'I always have trouble asking for help. I hate it!'
The truth is, Andy does need help. He's got just two weeks to raise over $1,000 to reach his $3,900 goal, qualifying him to run with Team in Training.
'If I could, I would write this check myself and be done,' he says. 'But I can't. I need the help and support of others to get me to San Antonio and lift me up when I start to wonder why I agreed to this adventure.'
For now, Andy hasn't forgotten. Brandon will be with him every step of the way, he said.
'Why do I run? I run for hope. I run for love. I run for the memory of the brother I lost to leukemia,' said Andy. 'I run for fitness. I run to push myself beyond what I think I am capable of. I run for self-growth. I run to make a difference.'
FOLLOW HIM ON FACEBOOK
Andy told me he will be documenting his workouts and fundraising progress on Facebook so supporters can check in to see how he's doing.
And he is 62% of the way there. To donate, go to Andy's fundraising page, http://pages.teamintraining.org/vtnt/herosa13/andyjons.
Inspired by this wonderful cause Andy says he recorded some new songs 'with good vibes in honor of the LLS and my brother's legacy.'
He sent me a rough copy and the material is every bit as good as I imagined. His goal is to make a music video or two and release them on YouTube. Seattle Gay News will keep you updated on Andy's music, the 13-mile run, and his fundraising goals.
Although it is the holiday season, and I've already donated more than I can really afford this year, I am inspired by Andy and, although I never had the pleasure of knowing him, Brandon. I am going to make a contribution to this effort as soon as I send this story to press, and I hope that their story will inspire you to do so as well.
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