SCRANTON, Pa. -- A Scranton police officer and a teacher in the Riverside School District found themselves connecting over something most people hope to never endure -- a cancer diagnosis.
As a Scranton Police officer and a member of the department's special operations group, Chris Hallock knew he had signed up for a dangerous job, one that might put his life at risk.
"Another interview I did, they asked if being a police officer prepared me for this. And I actually laughed at that question," Hallock said. "There's nothing that can prepare you for this."
"Shots fired, man down." Those were phrases on Hallock's radar. "You have cancer," wasn't one of them.
"You hear about it, and you know we would attend benefits, and I would run 5Ks for people, and you just never imagined it would be you that they'd be telling that you have cancer."
Chris was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. A cop in his mid-30s, who works out for two hours a day, and runs 5Ks, was now having trouble simply walking up the stairs.
"Everyone looks at you like you're the wounded animal now. And, you know, that's a tough pill to swallow," he said.
That feeling is something Maria Voytko, a teacher in the Riverside School District, is all too familiar with.
"I still feel like I have this big C on my forehead, that's like, I have cancer, and everybody's kind of looking at me like, 'Is she OK now?' and it's, unfortunately, never going to go away, so it's something that you just have to deal with."
Maria was diagnosed with the same type of leukemia when she was just a senior in high school. She and Chris connected through a friend of Chris' wife, Angela.
Although they were diagnosed at vastly different stages of their lives, the pair found that cancer ignores circumstances.
"I'll never forget the first time that Maria broke through to me was she told me just ask me how the cancer stares were going. and, you know, I just, I go, 'OK, she gets it,'" Hallock said.
In February of last year, Hallock received a lifesaving stem cell transplant from his sister. He's now in recovery mode, which means countless doctors' appointments and treatments to make sure his immune system regenerates properly.
Even then, as Maria knows, recovery doesn't stop there.
"Remission does not end the chapter of cancer. It is a lifelong sentence, unfortunately."
A sentence that is much easier to live out with people by your side, especially people who understand what you're going through.
"It brought me hope, you know, seeing, Maria. You know, in talking to her and seeing how she beat it."
But the past two years weren't always full of hope and happiness for Hallock.
"People always say you're so strong, and sometimes I struggle with that because people didn't see behind the scenes."
Chris and Angela gave birth to their first son, Giovanni, now 2, one month before the diagnosis. Some might say that's bad timing, but Hallock calls it a blessing in disguise.
"He gave me something to fight for. You know, I knew I needed to be there, and I wanted to be there for him, and I wanted to set a good example for him that you know if times get tough, you just, you know, keep pushing forward. And, you know, I don't know if I would have been as strong as I was if it wasn't for him," Chris said.
For Chris and Maria, it's no longer about surviving life. It's about celebrating it.
"I am so proud of every single year in my life. I'm 41, and I made it here, and I'm going to make 42 and 82, you know, so I'm never going to lie about my age. People think I'm crazy," Maria said.
"It's living in the honor of people who, unfortunately, didn't make it. It's rubbing into cancer's face that, you know what? Yeah, I'm here. I'm here. You gave me your best shot, and I'm here," Chris said.
Now Chris wants to pay it forward and help others the same way Maria helped him giving public speeches, reaching out on social media, even just chatting with other cancer patients he sees at the hospital when he goes in for treatments. Most importantly, he wants to get his message out there
"Tomorrow's a new day with a new beginning, and you just have to remember that even if this is the worst day of your life, tomorrow could be the best day of your life, but if you don't fight to live till tomorrow, you'll never experience that."
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