A Boy, A Community, And A Love For Anime

tj-story-heroThe Pearl City High School cafeteria was bustling with excitement and music. Outside, it seemed like a typical event, but entering the room proved anything but. Totoro posed with a girl in a blue wig and whimsical, flouncy dress. A boy wearing a straw hat and slippers had his arm around a Japanese school girl adorned with fuzzy cat ears and tail. Storm troopers, Deadpool, even a Ghostbuster-Luigi character hybrid stood in line, chatting with each other as they patiently waited to get to the front, where 14-year-old TJ Fernandez sat in a wheelchair, hooked up to the various machines that were helping to keep him alive. While most bystanders watching from the side had no idea who they were or what they were doing, TJ felt right at home.

What began as headaches earlier in the year progressed into a lethal diagnosis in October—TJ had a brain stem tumor, inoperable due to its delicate location. After rounds of radiation treatment, the tumor remained, and TJ’s family decided that allowing him to live the rest of his days pain-free, in the comfort of his own room and surrounded by his family was the best for him. And so they turned to Hospice Hawaii.

It’s hard to imagine anyone, much less a teenager, going through such a difficult experience. TJ’s biggest fear was supposed to be asking his crush to the school dance, not this. And despite the incredible amount of maturity he had gained in the face of hardship, at his heart he was still just a kid. He loved anime, comics and videogames. He was able to forget the pain when his older brother, Chase, came home from work and they would watch episodes of their favorite shows together on TV. Though TJ’s eyesight was bad and getting worse, being able to experience the familiar sounds and colors eased his mind. He had planned to visit Japan, the Mecca of all things anime, but his symptoms progressed so aggressively that he quickly became unfit to fly.

We at Hospice Hawaii believe that everyone deserves the chance to fulfill their dreams. To fulfill TJ’s bucket list, we reached out to Kawaii Kon, Hawaii’s own anime convention, to help us bring Japan to him. Rallying support was effortless—the anime community is an ebullient, fun-loving group that would do anything for a fellow otaku (anime fan). Dressed up in their favorite characters, many homemade, they each met TJ, who grinned and threw a shaka. Though he had limited control of his facial expressions, the shine in his eyes conveyed his gratitude to each one he met. He was the celebrity of the hour—strangers had come from all around the island to cheer him on, and with his family by his side there was nothing more he could have asked for.

It’s not about helping you in death. It’s about helping you in life.

“Thank you, Hospice Hawaii.” – Chase Fernandez, brother

“Hospice Hawaii allowed us to spend time with our son and give us memories we’ll treasure for the rest of our lives.” – Jocelyn Fernandez, mother