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USO, Partners Help Cancer-Stricken Marine Fulfill Dream of Meeting President

Monday, June 03, 2013

By Eric Brandner 

Chris Fillion shifted the coin with the presidential seal from his palm to his knuckles. The small-but-weighty bronze and blue circle – a token handed to him a day earlier by President Barack Obama – signified another milestone in a long journey that’s been filled with more heartbreak than happiness.

But on Friday in the American Airlines Admirals Club at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Fillion and his family were all smiles.

“Everything was happening so fast. I couldn’t even take it all in,” Fillion said of his Thursday trip to the White House. “And then when I actually saw Obama, I had no words.

“He knew me by name. He said ‘Chris’ and I kind of was stunned. He shook my hand. That was really big for me.”

Meeting Obama was the fulfillment of one of Fillion’s last wishes. The 22-year-old Marine lance corporal was diagnosed with a brain tumor around Christmas 2010. A year of radiation and chemotherapy helped to remove the signs of cancer in his brain. But in December 2012, after he was hospitalized for back pain, tests revealed Fillion’s terminal cancer had resurfaced in his spinal chord. His condition is still considered terminal and he was scheduled to have another surgery at Baptist Health South Florida in Miami today.

Luis Valle, who worked with the Fillion family in his civilian role as a Marine Corps recovery care coordinator, reached out to Wendy Fish – the USO’s Families of the Fallen Support Manager – in February to see if she could help make Fillion’s wish of meeting Obama a reality.

Fish, who is based in Oklahoma, routed the request through the USO’s Arlington, Va., offices, where it eventually landed on the desk of Director of External Communications Lynly Boor. Boor, who works closely with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces initiative, approached then-Joining Forces Executive Director Todd Veazie with the request. Joining Forces worked to get the Fillion family into the White House with a group of wounded, ill and injured troops slated to meet Obama.

“We are so incredibly honored to help give Chris the opportunity to meet President Obama and to have this memorable time with his family,” Fish said.

The Fillions were slated to meet Obama in mid-April, but that meeting was canceled because of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Despite Fillion’s wavering health, the family was assigned a new date of May 30. The USO worked with American Airlines, which donated four round-trip flights so Chris, his parents, Ron and Rose, and his sister Tiffanie – who also serves as his caretaker – could travel to D.C. from their Miami home.

After some last-minute clearances for travel by doctors, the quartet was greeted by American employees at Miami International Airport for their flight to Washington on Wednesday.

They spent parts of the next three days seeing the sights – including the Lincoln Memorial – as much as Chris’ health allowed. And on Thursday afternoon, they were among roughly 35 guests whose heads turned when Obama strolled into the East Room to greet them.

“I’ve always wanted to meet the president [and] I knew my mom would be excited about it,” Fillion said. “I like the fact that she got to see it. She’s going to be happy for the rest of her life.”

* * *

Photo caption: Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher Fillion says goodbye to USO volunteer Nanci Link on Friday before flying home to Miami at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. (USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee) 

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