By Zoe Adams
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Twenty-year-old Justin Klingelhofer is lying in a Walter Reed National Military Medical Center hospital bed. Tears silently run down his face as excruciating pain radiates in his back and legs.
He closes his eyes and re-imagines his time on deployment, when he was fulfilling his dream, traveling the world, and life was great. Moments later, a doctor walks up to the side of his bed, interrupting his daydream to explain their plan for chemo this week.
A United States Marine from Abingdon, Maryland, Klingelhofer was stationed in Camp Lejune in North Carolina, when he was diagnosed with stage four metastatic Ewing’s Sarcoma. Prior to his diagnosis, the infantry rifleman had been deployed for eight months in the countries of Georgia, Jordan, Spain, Lithuania, Poland, and Germany.
Klingelhofer’s longtime aspiration was to be a Marine and serve his country, but on Jan. 8, he was informed he had a rare type of a cancer tumor that was going to alter the direction of the life he had planned.
“I accept that this is what my life is like right now,” Klingelhofer said while talking about how he has dealt with the diagnosis. “I joke around, and I spend time with my family and friends.”
Klingelhofer was on deployment when he felt a sharp pain in his back after a workout in July 2018.
“It felt like a sharp needle-like pain in my right hip, and I couldn’t put any type of pressure on it for about four days,” Klingelhofer said.
He struggled with pain for months. Doctors on base explained that he was required to complete physical therapy before he could get any further evaluation. He completed two sessions with no success. The pain intensified, until he was hardly able to walk or drive, he could no longer handle it anymore.
Klingelhofer was granted Christmas leave, and came home to be with his family and friends for the holidays. However, celebrating was cut short when both himself and his family decided to take matters into their own hands and get him an MRI.
“I got the results the next day and it came back that there were multiple lesions on my lower extremities and a major one on my hip and pelvic area,” Klingelhofer said. “I went to Franklin Square the day after I got my results and had a bone marrow biopsy procedure done to be tested to find my exact diagnosis.”
Ewing’s Sarcoma was his diagnosis, a rare one, given to only 200 children and young adults per year, according to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Klingelhofer spent his teenage years at Harford Technical High School, where he studied carpentry. He was an athlete, playing baseball in the little league and continued until his senior year. He always had a team counting on him growing up, and it was no different when he joined the Marines.
“Justin is extremely dedicated to everything he does. Since he was young, he wanted to be the best and work hard to make sure he was playing to the best of his abilities,” Courtney Poole, Klingelhofer’s girlfriend, said. “He used the same values when he went into the military. He worked hard to be the very best that he could in all aspects of his job.”
The community has rallied around him, according to his mother, Tyania Klingelhofer.
“There has been an outpouring amount of support from businessowners in our community. Looneys in Bel air, The Bushmill Tavern, and Chic-fil-A owners have all reached out to offer to hold events to help my husband and I if needed,” she said.
Recently, the Marine was invited back to his high school, where threw the first pitch at Harford Tech baseball home game.
Since the diagnosis, almost everything about his daily life is different.
“Basically, I can’t do anything that I used to,” Klingelhofer said. “I’ve lost a ton of weight. I’m not fully able to walk all of the time. I’ve now transferred and moved to a different base than where I started my military career at,” Klingelhofer continued. “I pretty much base my days right now around when I have chemo, when I need to go to the clinic, and different appointments.”
Not only has his life changed because it now revolves around medical concerns, his dream of being in the infantry has come to an end.
Simply put, he is no longer able to do his job anymore. Being in the infantry requires a soldier to run, train, and carry heavy loads of gear. Physically, Klingelhofer can’t do it anymore.
His family and friends have struggled, too, to accept his diagnosis but his strength keeps them going, and this process has taught his sister to appreciate the time she has with people.
“I feel like I need to really take in the small moments and not take any time for granted,” Klingelhofer’s sister, Taylor said. “I’m getting married this year, and he’s one of my groomsmen. I want to share this important time with him, but it has taught me to not sweat the small stuff.”
The whole situation has not been negative, though. Although his diagnosis is not the fault of the United States Marine Corps, they still pay for everything. The government is responsible for making sure he gets proper treatment, because he was under their watch at the time of his diagnosis.
Meanwhile, the Marine is showing great courage in the hardest battle he will ever face: the one for his life.