When starting a life together, Zak and Cori Salazar never imagined they’d also be sharing a cancer journey.
The California-based parents were diagnosed just months apart this year — they’re caring for their three children as they inspire others with their courage, perseverance and love.
Cori, 38, received the bad news first, finding out she has “an aggressive” type of thyroid cancer after she and her husband noticed “a fairly large” neck growth in March.
She underwent two surgeries to remove the mass and some of her lymph nodes.
Disaster struck the Mission Viejo couple again when Zak went to the ophthalmologist in June for a new prescription, only to be asked a seemingly innocuous question that would forever change his life.
“[The ophthalmologist asked] do you experience headaches?” Zak, 38, recalled to People, admitting that he does suffer from “horrible” headaches.
The ophthalmologist reportedly told him that his optic nerves were swollen in both eyes, recommending he see a retina specialist immediately.
Zak said the retina specialist confirmed what the ophthalmologist said.
“I didn’t really know what that meant, but he assured me that it wasn’t good news,” he said, adding he was directed to get an emergency MRI.
After the procedure, Zak learned he had “a large mass” in the right frontal lobe of his brain.
He underwent surgery to remove the 8-centimeter tumor days later, on July 3.
The dad of three was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a “fast-growing type” of tumor known as a grade 4 astrocytoma, per the National Cancer Institute.
Zak was able to leave the hospital briefly before his surgery to spend time with his daughters — Juniper, 4, Delaney, 3, and Luna, 18 months — and other family members and close friends.
This type of tumor is treatable, but not curable, with doctors predicting a life expectancy of 12 to 18 months.
Zak, who helms “The Ranger Zak Show” on YouTube, is committed to “beating and surviving” the tumor.
His family prefers not to discuss statistics surrounding his cancer.
Cori, meanwhile, is still enduring blood testing “every three to six weeks” to make sure her cancer doesn’t return.
If it does, she would have to undergo radioactive iodine therapy, which would take her away from her children for at least three days.
“It’s really hard because I can’t be at home,” she explained to People. “There’s no way that I can be away from the girls.”
The couple said they are thankful to their community, with over $236,000 raised via GoFundMe for the family as of Tuesday.
Though the prognosis is devastating, it’s helped them appreciate the love and support they’ve received.
“Honestly, I have an entirely new outlook on life,” Zak gushed. “It is a blessing, in a way. I feel like my eyes are open for the very first time, and I’m fully awake and aware of what life is all about.”
Zak is set to begin a six-week chemotherapy regimen in early August — in the meantime, he’s determined to spend as much time with his loved ones as possible.
“From here on out, every additional second that I get to spend with my family — with my wife, my girls, and the people I love — is a total and absolute gift,” Zak said. “I don’t intend on wasting a single second.”
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