For three and a half years, Milton Llinas embodied Rocky the Bull. Upon his graduation in December, USF’s former mascot hung up his Rocky costume and had his post-college life planned out as many graduates do.
Llinas intended on applying and eventually attending law school at the University of Miami (UM). Instead, Llinas and his family had to embark on an entirely different journey.
Between the last week of January and the first days of February, Llinas fell sick with what he thought were flu-like symptoms. His body was too weak to function on its own, so his mother drove him to the emergency room in hopes of remedying his perceived sickness.
“It was a Thursday, Feb.1,” Llinas said. “I could have sworn it was the flu.”
Instead of getting an ordinary prescription, Llinas was confronted with the reality of why he was so ill.
“My white blood cell count was 161,000,” Llinas said, “The doctors said that it wasn’t a common pathogen and that it was something much worse.”
As explained by Llinas, a normal white blood cell count should be under 12,000. When the count exceeds 50,000, it tends to point to pathogens or other issues present in the body. However, a count that is over 100,000 is something that is alarming because it means the body is fighting a serious infection.
At the time, Llinas was clueless over what his white blood cell count meant.
“I said, ‘What do you mean?’” Llinas said, “He goes, ‘This could mean that you have leukemia or some kind of blood disease.’”
Llinas was devastated and obviously in shock. Though his doctor was certain that it was indeed leukemia, Llinas was silently hoping there had been an error of some kind.
This diagnosis was no mistake and before he knew it, he was on his way to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Tampa General Hospital.
“It was in Tampa General where they told me that it’s pretty much leukemia,” Llinas said. “They just needed to test what kind.”
During the process of accepting his diagnosis, Llinas recalls visiting his doctor in December and everything being normal. He couldn’t understand what had happened during the time between December and February.
From what Llinas could tell, it looks like the cancer had developed during the same week he was feeling sick.
“It can literally happen overnight,” Llinas said. “And it literally happened over night for me.”
Between the shock of finding out about the leukemia and settling in at the ICU, Llinas decided it was time to let people know about what was going on. His mother had already been there when he got diagnosed, so his next step was to tell his father who wasn’t with him at the time.
“Then I called my dad in Colombia,” Llinas said. “It hit him really hard.”
Despite the uncertainty of what’s to come, Llinas said he wants to see the positive in everything. Cancer is something that no one wants to deal with in any period of their life, but Llinas said he is glad the sickness happened to him and not to anyone else he cares for.
“I rather it be me than my brothers,” Llinas said. “They have autism, they would not have been able to handle this like I am.”
Another positive aspect Llinas chooses to look at is the timing of it all.
“I’m glad I didn’t get into law school and start this battle then,” Llinas said, “I’m glad it happened at the right time every though (the situation) crappy.”
One of Llinas’ fraternity brothers from Alpha Sigma Phi, Alex Hernandez, had dropped by to visit with food and support. When asked about Llinas’ diagnosis, Hernandez hesitated briefly before answering.
“It’s so hard to believe when something happens to someone that’s so serious,” Hernandez said. “I was shocked that this could happen to someone I knew.”
While Llinas is still in Tampa General Hospital as he receives chemotherapy treatment, the support he has gotten from family, friends and even President Judy Genshaft’s husband who dropped by to visit him, has been consistent. He has his good days and he has his bad days, but he stands firm on overcoming.
“Quite frankly, I’m just going through a bumpy road,” Llinas said. “This is something that I will win. I’m going to come out on top; I’m going to go to law school. I’m going to have a full life.”