What would you do if you found out you had a year left to live?
Since September of 2017, Chris Betancourt has been facing that question in earnest. The Carmichael, California-based 20-year-old had just started his first year of college, intent on becoming a police officer, when he got the news: His cancer — chronic myeloid leukemia, which he had first battled as a nine-year-old — had returned at an alarming rate.
“Once I heard the news, it kind of shut me down,” says Betancourt. “What it does is it makes these white blood cells, they don’t look normal, they don’t function normally, and sometimes they can attack … healthy, living cells.”
Doctors told Chris that without a bone marrow transplant, he had a year left. The cancer cells in his blood had jumped from 0.001% to 11%. Faced with the news, he called his best friend, Dillon Hill — the same friend who, years before, had sat by his bedside playing video games while he battled cancer the first time around, and later co-founded a charity, Gamers Gift, with.
“When Chris called me, he said something that really stood out to me. He said, ‘I’m afraid of not being able to experience the things I want to in life.’ And that’s a hard sentence to hear,” says Hill.
The next day, Dillon drove back to college but continued to replay the conversation during class.
“Just sitting there,” says Hill, “knowing that 30 miles away, my best friend was dying — literally given a year to live — why am I sitting here?”
“[Chris] said, ‘I’m afraid of not being able to experience the things I want to in life.’ And that’s a hard sentence to hear.” – Dillon Hill
He decided to drop out. When the two spoke next, a plan formed.
“[Dillon said], ‘alright, give me a list of 50 things you want to do, and we’re going to go do them, no questions asked,’” says Betancourt.
With that, One List, One Life was born. The two best friends began brainstorming all the things they’d ever wanted to do — fly a plane, serve food to the homeless, have a pillow fight with strangers — then started pursuing them, sharing the list and their adventures online. Soon enough, people began reaching out. Offers poured in from countries around the world to help the two in crossing items off their list.
“To have a bunch of people come forward and [offer help] … it’s really just like, wow. It’s definitely not expected, and it’s really appreciated,” says Betancourt.
“So many people were signing up for the bone marrow registry on our behalf that we got a call from the national registry. It’s crazy,” adds Hill.
A bone marrow transplant remains Betancourt’s best hope for recovery. The wait can take as long as three months before finding out about a possible match with a donor.
“I want to look back and remember that was the year Chris fought cancer, that was the year he [beat] it again, and that was the year we experienced our bucket list together and inspired thousands of people,” says Hill.
Regardless, it’s an event that has profoundly shaped the way the two look at their lives.
“Life can be gone at any moment,” adds Betancourt. “We’ve got to enjoy every little bit we’ve got.”