For one U.S. Marine, deploying to combat was a lifelong goal. But the chance to fight for his country was suddenly side-tracked by a battle he never expected.
Four years ago, Staff Sgt. Joe Cruz was a newlywed, had just moved into his dream home in North Carolina, and was weeks from realizing his goal of deploying to Afghanistan.
But when a tickle in his throat wouldn't go away, Cruz's life began to unravel.
The diagnosis was unthinkable. Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma covered Cruz's lung and flooded his spine. Chemo began immediately.
And when fellow Marines left for combat, Cruz stayed behind, heartbroken and near death.
"It was hard to know that I fought so hard to get to that level,” Cruz says. “I felt pain, but nothing as strong as the pain I felt in my heart when he said I couldn't go."
Chemo lasted six months. Cruz calls it a blur. About a year later, the cancer began to disappear.
By 2011, Cruz was in remission, and in the gym six days a week. Last November, he passed his physical training test, the final hurdle in a race back to combat.
This week, Cruz officially re-enlisted with the Marine Corps. Soon, he and his family will leave for their new post in Louisiana, where he will start a position training infantry reservists.
But doctors won't give him the green light to deploy for another two years.