Saturday, June 22, 2024

Local police officer receives community support in cancer battle


AZLE — Through local fundraisers and efforts online, the Azle Police Department is helping raise funds for a cherished officer with cancer. In one fundraiser June 1 at the Azle Walmart, community members donated more than $8,000 to help offset that officer’s medical and living expenses — an amount expected to be matched by a generous, anonymous donor.

Usually healthy and pain-free, Officer Jason Castro was concerned after excruciating aches woke him from sleep one night. He went to the hospital and at the end of February, Castro was diagnosed with stage two testicular cancer. After several tests by doctors, Castro decided to have the affected area surgically removed in early April. That’s when he found out the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in his abdomen, and he was referred to an oncologist to begin chemotherapy treatments which he started April 12. The officer undergoes one week of treatments with two weeks off treatments, with the drug cocktail leaving him tired but still in good spirits.

“Having the cancer doesn’t bring my hopes down,” Castro said. “Other than fatigue and being tired I’m still doing the same things. I haven’t really changed much from my diagnosis. I’m more of a positive type of guy. If I go negative, there’s nothing it’s going to do to change anything. Why stay negative? So, I’m always trying to stay positive. I still talk to all my friends. I still joke around and laugh like nothing’s going on.”

Castro joined the APD in February 2019 after attending a police academy in Dallas and Mesquite. Despite living in Farmers Branch, Castro makes the 50-mile trek twice every day because he loves working in Azle.

“To be honest, it’s the community,” Castro said. “Just the small community, the people I work with. Out there in Azle, the citizens care for you guys, for the police officers, they respect them. It’s a small community, everybody knows each other. The community is a lot stronger out here. It’s a different kind of vibe.”

Castro first discovered the Azle Police Department at a job fair, where he spoke with retired Lt. Bill Russell and APD executive assistant Elsie Plaunty.

“Out of the whole job fair, that was the only city that kind of drew my attention at the time,” Castro said. “I applied and I got hired and I’ve been there ever since.”

Castro and his wife, Mariana, only see the cancer as a bump in the road on their journey to start a family. The couple had been trying to conceive prior to his diagnosis. After learning about the cancer, the couple’s prospects began to narrow as the surgery and chemotherapy would drastically reduce their ability to have children.  The two considered adoption and sperm banking, but April 13, just a day after starting chemotherapy, Mariana Castro miraculously learned she is pregnant.

“It was a true blessing the last day after we saw the doctor that we got pregnant,” Castro said. “It gave us a sign that he’s (God) still with us and he still wants us to continue on this path. I just feel blessed. God sent me a gift. It reassures me that he’s there with me on my side.”

Castro said having a supportive family has been critical in getting his through his treatments. Taking leave from work, Castro’s wife has attended every doctor’s visit and surgery and helps him with anything he might need while bedridden after surgeries and treatments. He and his wife also currently live with his in-laws in Farmers Branch.

“I’m blessed to have her by my side. She cooks and she cleans. I’m truly blessed that God put her in my way,” Castro said. “We love being with (his in-laws), we don’t decide on moving anytime soon. Especially in this situation. If we had been on our own, it would have probably been a lot harder financially on us having to pay cars and rent. Being with our in-laws has helped us tremendously financially and emotionally as well, as well as having someone here if I need something. Her brothers can help me out or her family can help me out. My grandmother and my parents, as well, if I need something I just shoot them a text message or call, and they bring it to me. We all live within like 10 minutes of each other. It’s truly been a help, they’ve been bringing me like fruits, so I’m very fortunate to have my family as well as hers.”

“It makes me feel grateful that everyone is out here supporting him through the hard moments that we’re going through, and I just want to thank everyone here that’s supporting him, Mariana Castro said. “Just thank you all.”

Castro is scheduled to continue this round of chemotherapy until July. If any cancer remains in his abdomen, he will then undergo another surgery.

“(The doctor) said it’s a very complicated and time-consuming procedure but it can be done,” Castro said. “I’m ready for it. I used to be scared of surgeries but after doing a couple of them, I’m ready for it.”

Community supports castro

Castro has received donations from numerous Azle businesses, local churches and countless individuals to help pay for his treatments. At time of publication, a Go-Fund-Me campaign for the officer raised $10,785 for his medical expenses. On June 1, Castro’s fellow law enforcement officers, the Azle Police Officer’s Association, Texas Municipal Police Association and other community members also held a fundraiser on his behalf. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the TMPA and others sold burger baskets and chips for $10 at the Azle Walmart. For a $100 donation, local officers volunteered to shave their heads on the spot in solidarity with Castro. Barber Brad Vaughn, owner of Kingdom Kutz, donated his time and resources to the cause.

On Facebook, local auto shop owner Jennifer Burrows challenged Cpl. Mike Winterrowd to name a price to shave his head, mustache and beard. Winterrowd’s price was $2,000, which Burrows successfully delivered in-person to the fundraiser. An Azle Police Association spokesperson estimates volunteers were able to raise over $8,000 which they expect a generous donor to soon match for a total of more than $16,000.

“It’s good to be back and seeing all the support and the people coming out,” Castro said. “There’s a lot of support. It feels good,” Castro said. “It’s paying itself forward. We all do little things just because we want to and eventually people remember what we do for them.”

Through it all, Castro describes being able to withstand it all with the support of his faith, family and community. He described the support he has received from Azle as a blessing and questions what he would do without it.

“I’m very thankful and appreciative they are helping me out,” Castro said. “I’m very thankful that God put me there. If I never took the job or I would have left, where would I be now or what help would I be receiving now? Knowing that someone is sick and is going to need help, they sent out the message to everybody and the whole community just started ganging up and helping. The community itself is not just donating the money but their time to help me out. It is an honor. I feel truly blessed to be in this small community because if had been somewhere else, would it be different? Would they even care at a point? It hits more like you know them. It hits more like home. It’s not like just random people donating to me, it’s people from the community that are donating. You already knew they had your back but it’s also financially and spiritually that they have your back as well.”

Castro has spent time as a school resource officer in Azle schools and is also a member of the department’s domestic violence unit. In 2022, he was named Officer of the Year and has received a Life Saving Award. After five years on the force, Castro feels his time is best spent as a beat cop. He hopes to continue interacting with the public and helping them however they might need it when he returns to service after his recovery.

Viewing their child as an early Christmas present, the couple expects to greet the newest member of their family Dec. 18. Castro describes times as being hard with his illness taking attention away from the baby, but as he recovers, he looks forward to helping his wife with her nausea and fatigue, just as she helped him with his.

“I’m hoping God gives us a healthy baby,” Castro said. The couple expects to learn the baby’s gender the week of Fathers Day and they’re currently considering a number of different names, most biblical. If it’s a girl, Castro said the couple is considering naming the child Maria Guadalupe, after the patron saint, or Esperanza, meaning “hope.”