TWO years have passed since Jerrick Balanza faced the toughest challenge of his life.
Back in 2018, the 6-foot-2 slasher was diagnosed with a brain tumor that not only stalled his basketball career but also left him face to face with his own mortality.
Then a budding swingman and a cornerstone for the Knights, Balanza couldn't even celebrate his 22nd birthday as he awaited surgery in his hospital bed.
But a minor setback only proved a set-up for a major comeback.
Fast forward to now and Balanza, already healed from his life-threatening experience, is making the most of his second life. Not only is he back, he's also better than ever.
Once he returned, Balanza proved to be the undisputed leader for Letran's championship drive in NCAA Season 95 where he showcased both his skills and leadership qualities.
"I'm grateful beyond words talaga nung nalaman ko pa lang na may chance ako na makapag-basketball ulit," Balanza said.
"Kaya sobrang sarap sa pakiramdam na sa kabila ng hirap at sakripisyo, nakuha namin yung championship, at nakatuntong ako sa PBA at sobrang laking bonus pa nung na-draft ako sa Ginebra."
Two months later, he and Letran assistant coach LA Tenorio turned from student and mentor to teammates as Ginebra lucked out on Balanza and snagged him with the first pick of the second round in the 2019 PBA Rookie Draft.
Looking back, Balanza believes that the experience only toughened him and gave him a new perspective in life.
"Sobrang laking bagay sa akin ng pinagdaanan ko dahil naging positibo ang pananaw ko sa buhay," said Balanza, who turned 24 on Sunday.
"Mas naging malapit ako kay God at mas naging close ako sa family ko at ngayon, lahat ng opportunities na dumadating sa buhay ko talagang sinusulit ko."
Balanza, though, is just starting. He still has more goals in the PBA as he aims to have a long career for his family of four.
"Gusto ko pa din matupad yung pangarap ko sa family ko, na maging successful," he said. "Ginagawa ko naman yung mga alam kong paraan para maging long-term yung career ko sa PBA."