By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Jack Fabiani graduated from high school last spring without pomp and circumstance. No prom. No pals.
"I actually never knew a single person who went there," Jack says. "I went and sat down on a computer every single day, then went home and hung out with Blake. That's where we really bonded because we spent every second of every day together."
Jack graduated from John Marshall High School in Rochester, Minnesota, more than a thousand miles from his home in Dothan, Alabama. His brother, Blake, an Auburn student, was a leukemia patient at the Mayo Clinic.
"He was 17," Blake says. "And I had my stem cell transplant in January. So he was going into his last semester of his senior year of high school. Instead of having the most fun time of his life, he uprooted, moved to Minnesota, and stayed by my side every single day. No matter what, every single day, we did everything together."
The video board at Jordan-Hare Stadium will shine Wednesday night from 8-9 p.m., rotating six images. Orange and blue for Auburn's AUTLIVE cancer logo, purple for pancreatic cancer awareness, pearl for lung cancer, periwinkle for stomach cancer and zebra for carcinoid cancer.
When the board lights up in plum, for caregiver awareness, Blake will think of his little brother.
"He gave up all the friends, all the parties, all the fun, everything, just to sit there and be with me," Blake says. "That's something that I will be forever grateful for."
"I knew that I had an obligation to be with my brother when he needed me," Jack says.
In the summer of 2015, prior to his fourth year at Auburn, Blake began to feel ill. At first, he put off going to the doctor. Thinking he might have mono, Blake went to the Auburn University Medical Clinic in August.
Blood tests revealed something much worse.
"You could kind of see it on (Dr. R. Shannon Cason's) face. He said, `You need to go to the hospital,'" Blake remembers. "That was the start of my adventure."
Three days later, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Blake flew to Minnesota on August 24 and did not come home until May 15. Nearly nine months of chemotherapy, the stem cell transplant and recovery. He spent 85 nights, and many more days, in the hospital.
"It's long and there's not much to do," Blake says. "When you're undergoing those treatments, you just really don't feel like doing anything. So it's really just a lot of sitting, waiting."
"THE AUBURN FAMILY IS THERE FOR YOU"
Blake says his friends strongly supported him during his illness. One of them reached out to Auburn Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs.
"One day I was just sitting there, and got a phone call," Blake says. "It was Jay Jacobs on the other line. That shocked me. We had a conversation. He prayed with me, wished me the best, told me everybody was thinking about me. And that was awesome.
"Not two days later, I was sitting in the hospital bed. Get another phone call, early in the morning, it was Gus Malzahn. That shocked me even more. I know how busy he is. He took time out of his day. This was the first game Sean White was going to start last year. We actually had a little phone conversation about Sean White, and what to expect for the game coming up. And that was just great. It meant a lot to me.
"And then, shortly after that, they lit up the scoreboard in colors. That was the trifecta. `They really do care. They really are making an effort to put this awareness out there.' It really means a lot to know that your family, the Auburn family, is there for you."
Blake's room at the Mayo Clinic resembled what you might see in an Auburn residence hall, fraternity house or apartment.
"The doctors and nurses, they knew me as, `The Auburn Fan,' because I had so much orange and blue in my hospital room," he says. "Flags, pennants, you name it. Autographed footballs, everything. Stickers all over the walls. That was kind of like being at home while I was away."
BE THE MATCH
Thankfully for Blake, a 50-year-old in Germany, a mother of three, was part of the bone marrow registry. "I'm told, out of some 20 million people in the registry, that there was one single person who was a 10 out of 10 match for me," he says. "My life was literally saved by the bone marrow registry."
That's why Blake strongly advocates for Be The Match, an organization operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, which connects blood cancer patients with donors.
"Anyone can sign up to be in the registry. All they do is swab your cheek. That's it. You're done. And you might get a call one day to save somebody's life, just like that woman in Germany did for me," he says. "It's something everyone could do, and everyone should do. It's easy. It's painless. It's free. And you could literally save somebody's life."
When two years have passed since Blake's bone marrow transplant, in January, 2018, Be The Match will arrange a meeting between Blake and the woman who donated her life-saving marrow. "I'm very much looking forward to that day," he says.
LOSING IS NOT AN OPTION
Throughout Blake's battle, he relied on the phrase, "Losing is not an option."
"I kept telling myself, `Losing is not an option,'" he says. "I'm not going to die. I'm going to live. I'm going to beat this. I'm going to do everything I have to do."
Blake believes his attitude played a role in his recovery.
"I always stayed positive. That was important to me," he says. "And I'd have nurses ask, `You're always so happy. Why are you so positive?' I said, `Being negative is not going to help anything.' The alternative to this is that I literally lose my life. I have no choice. I've got to be positive. I've got to pull the good things out."
Back in school and in remission after a year away, the software engineering major says he appreciates everything more now.
Since Blake fatigues easily, standing in the student section is not an option for him on football Saturdays.
He has watched several games this season from the visiting stands. A stealth Auburn fan behind enemy lines?
"I'm not sure I'm stealth because I'm sitting there fully decked out," he says. "I'm that guy that they wish wasn't there."
There's one more game this season in which Blake might be in the visiting stands, but this time, he would be surrounded by orange and blue.
He's hoping to attend the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa, where Jack, his caregiver, is a freshman at the University of Alabama.
"I've been an Auburn fan my whole life, and then decided to go to Alabama," Jack says.
The Fabiani brothers have learned at a young age that some bonds are so strong, they surpass even the fiercest rivalry.
"It's divided," Jack says. "But there are much bigger things than football and I don't hate Auburn, because I was an Auburn fan all of my life. I don't think I'm a traitor, because I go to Alabama. I cheer for Auburn. I'm glad they're doing well."
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) November 2, 2016
"That means everything." The JHS video board lights tonight in plum for awareness of cancer caregivers, like Blake Fabiani's brother, Jack. pic.twitter.com/drdnuwktZl
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) November 2, 2016
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer