Pablo Ráez from Marbella, Spain, had a dream: to enjoy life and be happy. But on March 26, 2015, when he was only 18 years old, he was diagnosed with leukemia. On that day, the young athlete's life was forever changed… and the world changed along with him.
Once diagnosed, the nightmare began: he had to undergo several rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. The hospital was almost like his new home, a bleak reality for a young man whose only worry should have been his final school exams.
But then a glimmer of hope appeared: the bone marrow transplant had worked — the cancer was in full remission. Perhaps now he could get his life back and return to dreaming about a future with his girlfriend, Andrea.
Ten months later, unfortunately, this spark of hope died out as the doctors gave him bad news: the leukemia had come back, so he had to go through the whole ordeal again. The bone marrow that his father had donated had not been enough after all.
This time things looked even worse than before and finding a donor proved to be very difficult. The clock ticked as the search for new compatible bone marrow continued. Far from throwing in the towel, Pablo decided to take the reins of his life: he started posting his thoughts on social media and launched #retounmillón (onemillionchallenge), which set the goal of reaching a million bone marrow donors in Spain. Pablo wanted not only to reach a million donors, but also to raise awareness about the importance of donating. "It would be sad to die because there is no donor for me when everybody could increase these chances at life, as much for me as for all the people who might need a bone marrow transplant."
Day by day Pablo fought the disease bravely, always with his best smile and sharing deep reflections on life and death. His efforts managed to raise bone marrow donations in Spain by 1,000%. All eyes were on the "gladiator" as he called himself. His followers, more than half a million on Instagram, cheered him on at every step.
And then, in October 2016, Pablo received some good news: there was another compatible donor for him. There was hope again and the fear that had plagued him since the diagnosis began to disappear. "They asked me where I find this strength, this will to live, how I'm always smiling in spite of all the hard times. I don't fear death and I'm free, that's where my strength comes from. When you stop being afraid you are free," he said in one of his Facebook posts.
But despite Pablo's valiant battle, fate had other plans in store for him. When the second transplant also didn't work, Pablo knew he would soon die. But he never let his courage or strength be shaken and fought with all he had until the very end. Last Saturday, February 25, 2017, at the tender age of 20, Pablo died.
In this Instagram post you can read one of his last reflections before passing...
"I've been thinking about something that I'd like to share with you. We live in a society where we work and earn money by time, which means that we live for and by time. We live like slaves in this system based on pure bureaucracy. The planet is deteriorating little by little, we are destroying it: we are melting the poles, we manufacture recklessly, we cause wars, kill people and we do so much more that is going to bring this world to its end, and we do all of this because of money. We are not happy with what we have, we always wish for more. Life should be lived simply and in a system that looks after each person and after this beautiful planet. We need to be happier and to see what we are doing for and to the world, we need to start realizing what is really important and we need to learn how to value it. We need to love more, first of all ourselves and then the world. You need to love yourself before you can love others. Let's smile more, let’s give more hugs, more peace; let's be the best version of ourselves. Let's be thankful to life for giving us the precious luxury of waking up every day, let's be more grateful."
His family and his friends are not the only ones devastated by his death. Many Spanish celebrities, as well as the media, have paid tribute to him. On February 28, Pablo was supposed to receive a medal from the city of Marbella for being an example and an inspiration. Now it's a medal he will never see, but one that now has more meaning than ever.
In his last Instagram post Pablo wrote: "Death is part of life, as such it should not be feared but rather loved." Andrea, Pablo’s fiancée, to whom he proposed a few months ago, dug out this picture the two had posted on social media a few months prior. She stood by his side through thick and thin.
"I love you Andrea and not only do I love you but I also love life and living it to the fullest. No matter what happens to me it will be a gift from life. Thanks to life and to you Andrea."
During the years he fought tirelessly, Pablo left his mark not only on the hearts of his friends and family, but the whole country as well. He is an example of courage, inspiration, kindness and strength in the face of adversity. He was not fighting just for himself — he was fighting for everyone. Thank you, Pablo, for being who you are. Rest in peace.