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A year on, Villanueva — who takes daily chemotherapy medication — said he posted his story on Reddit in the hope that he could share his struggle with others.
“It was an ‘Ask Me Anything’ [post]. It said that I have cancer and I may not make it to my 24th birthday. I just wanted to talk to people. I thought people might want to ask questions and to hear my perspective,” he said, adding that he never could have imagined the onslaught of support he would receive.
That night, as Villanueva slept, hundreds responded to his post. Most shared words of encouragement and support, though some users offered much more.
Responding to a comment, Villanueva had mentioned in passing that he and his family had been meaning to take a vacation together. In response, dozens of Reddit users from all across the world invited him to come to their homes for free. Some even offered to pay for his airfare.
Lindsay Minar, a Reddit user from Portland, Ore., decided she would help consolidate these efforts.
“He really wanted to go on one big last trip…so I thought, ‘Why can’t we help him get there?’” Minar, who set up an online fund in Villanueva’s name, told CTV News.
By the time Villanueva got out of bed, $9,000 had already been raised.
“When I woke up and checked my inbox, I was completely floored. I thought I was still dreaming,” he said. “It was just amazing the way Reddit came together as a community. It’s like a new form of charity.”
Indeed, the generosity shown towards Villanueva has been reminiscent of the $31,000 raised within hours last year by the Reddit community for a young boy suffering from a rare immune disorder.
In Villanueva’s case, it took 24 hours for 1,200 people to donate $30,000. Among them were actor Bill Cosby and Brad Angelo, a Texan living in Afghanistan who donated about $7,500.
When the amount hit $30,000, Villanueva asked Minar to close the account.
“I started out expecting nothing. This has already changed my life and I didn’t want it to get out of hand. For people who are really inspired to do something, I know there’s somebody else they can direct that to,” he said.
With the money raised, Villanueva is planning on traveling around the United States, first with his brother and then with his mom. He will be meeting with some of his Reddit supporters and donors along the way.
“[When I meet Lindsay Minar] there’s probably going to be some tears. I’m definitely going to give her a really big hug and tell her how much she means to me and how much she’s changed my life,” he said of his upcoming meeting with Minar when he travels to Portland.
Villanueva, who hopes to also take a trip abroad with his dad, added that he is also earmarking some of the money for potential future cancer treatments, as he hopes his travels will expose him to new treatment options.
By Dominique Mosbergen