Visalia Football Player Takes On New Opponent: Cancer
by Liz Gonzalez
Saturday, August 9th 2014
This wasn't the end of summer 14-year-old Joshua Villarreal, Jr. of Visalia imagined.
He was getting ready to start high school, and star on the Mt. Whitney High School Football Team.
The wide receiver spent countless days getting ready, with passing league and workouts.
But just weeks before the start of school, he's packing up.
He's going to Stanford Hospital, for treatment.
Joshua has cancer.
"He's a warrior," says his father, Joshua Villarreal, Sr.
"He plays football, he wrestles, he's non-stop. Academically, he's honor roll. He's been on honor roll since third grade."
But this time around, Joshua is facing something that he didn't prepare for.
An opponent with no films to study.
"It started off with a cramp. Every couple of weeks, he had a stomach cramp," says Villarreal.
The cramping started in March.
Doctors told him it was likely a digestive issue.
Things would get better, then the younger Villarreal would be complaining again.
Things reached an extreme two weeks ago.
"He said, 'Dad, I gotta take timeout from football. I can't do it anymore.' I said there's something wrong, really wrong," says Villarreal.
Doctors at Children's Hospital Central California ran scan after scan.
Villarreal says doctors found cancer in his son's colon, intestines, and stomach.
"He asked me in the room, 'Dad, do I have cancer?' and I said yeah, yeah you do. He goes, 'Okay. I'm gonna beat this.' I said yeah, yeah you are," Villarreal says. "It's heartbreaking, to tell you the truth. How do you tell him? What do you say?"
Joshua had surgery Thursday.
Life for his family, has been put on hold.
His father quit his job.
"I'm gonna be there every step of the way. Work will wait. My son's health is most important," he says.
Joshua's mother, his two brothers, and sister, are moving in with family members.
Support has been pouring in from all over.
His football teammates sent him gear, and a banner with all their signatures.
Even football players from other schools Clovis West stopped by to show their support.
But by far, the biggest boost to his spirits was a phone call he received Saturday afternoon.
"Derek Carr called him today. He talked with him and prayed with him. It was an awesome thing. It really made his day," Villarreal says.
The former Fresno State quarterback plays for the Oakland Raiders, Joshua's favorite team.
On social media, people are joining his fight.
Some have changed their profile pictures to a yellow ribbon, with the words "Team Josh."
Joshua's father says that as far as he’s concerned, this is his son's biggest game yet.
"He said this is first quarter," Villarreal says.
And he's ready to tackle cancer, with his father, as his coach.
"You took first in wrestling, first in valley. How hard did you have to work? He said real hard. I said well, you're gonna have to work harder, dude and make it happen," Villarreal says.
The family is raising money to help with travel and medical expenses.