Thank You Joe Ninja
2014 started off strong with my Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl and a clear scan, but this last month has been very rough. A couple weeks ago, I got word that my friend Joe “Ninja” Northrup wasn’t doing well and I’m sad to report that he passed away Monday morning. I knew that becoming friends with other Brain Cancer patients would bring on tough moments like this, but this one is really hard for me to swallow. Joe was my best and closest ally in the battle against brain cancer, so it is through lots of tears that I write this tribute to the man, the myth, and the legend that is Joe Ninja.
I first met Joe at a Brain Cancer support group… When I initially heard about the group, I was very hesitant to go because I wasn’t sure if attending would encourage me or bum me out. My mom eventually volunteered to go with me and I’m glad she did because after going, I never felt alone again. I remember entering the room and seeing a dozen or so people, most of whom were older, but then turning and seeing a young couple cuddling on the couch (Joe and his wife Erica). Although I would never wish this situation on anybody, I have to admit that I felt relieved seeing them because being young and married with cancer (especially brain cancer) presents it’s own unique challenges and I knew that being able to talk about those things with someone that understood would make the circumstances much easier to bear.
Because I was new to the group, I was the first to introduce myself. For some strange reason I felt nervous and struggled to find words, but I eventually managed to say that I grew up near Seattle and worked in film. I heard a laugh from the couch and looked over and saw Joe nod at me and say, “Me too”. After that, I immediately felt relaxed. Not only was this guy my age and married but he understood where I grew up and what I did for a living. When the group ended, I went up to him right away and asked to get together.
A couple days later, we hung out and I felt an immediate kinship. We both had a thirst for adventure, a determined spirit, and a love for all things geek. In fact, the only real noticeable difference between us was that we went to college at each other’s rival (I went to University of Washington and he went to Washington State University). Throughout our conversation that day though, I could tell that he was struggling to hold it together. I asked him if he was alright and he told me that he had recently found out that he had a recurrence and would be having another surgery soon. He confessed that he was scared but that he would have no problem beating it because he was trained in martial arts. I admired both his vulnerability and unflinchingly tenacious attitude, and after hanging out the rest of the day I knew that I had a brother-in-arms to go through this journey with.
I began hanging out with others in the support group as well but always felt a special bond with Joe. There was an iron sharpening iron dynamic to our relationship that made it special. Every time we hung out we could talk about things openly and transparently with no judgment which was something we both needed because we wanted to be strong for those we loved and cared about. Even if we went awhile without seeing each other we could pick up right where we left off and that is always a sign of a true friendship.
The highlight of my experiences with Joe was when we took a week long trip across the country together to film a project. I was asked to produce something that required visits to Purdue University, M.I.T., and Georgetown University. I needed a helping hand so I asked Joe to come with me knowing that it could be a great time to both work and travel together. We managed to do a lot of sightseeing while we traveled and every time we saw each other afterwards we would talk about that trip. It was the perfect reprieve we needed in the midst of dealing with all the bull sh** that comes with dealing with the disease.
I will never forget Joe Ninja. Our time together was too crucial and his spirit was too impressionable to do so. He was the real freakin’ deal and It’s rare that you meet someone like that. He wasn’t just a fighter, he was a crusader who cared about injustices and the way people were treated. He was not only creative, but a great collaborator and problem solver. He was also a deep thinker and a fun conversationalist. What I’ll remember most about him was that even though he had endured so much he was still thoughtful and considerate of others in a way that was refreshing and never fake.
I could go on and on about Joe but I feel that this eulogy written by his good friend Merc Boyan puts it all so perfectly:
“At about 1 am on March 3rd, Joe Northrup was surrounded by family and friends as he quietly and peacefully passed on. The support and love from the extended reaches of Joe’s influence was felt through the night as he drifted away. We all love Joe. We will all continue to love Joe. His experience provides us with a gift of inspiration. Live life. Be happy with the simple things, but don’t miss the big things. Value the important things. Enjoy the company of good friends. Hold tightly your loved ones. Find peace in the struggle, and be confident that it is all okay. It is going to be okay. Joe’s adventurous spirit and determined mind will motivate us. Do not waste the days. Hold tight to the time we have. Let out an abundance of love into every relationship you hold dear. Do not be afraid to tell them: ‘I love you’.”
I love you Joe. Thank you for all the moments and inspirations. Your memory and your legacy lives on.”
I was able to see him a couple times these past few weeks and am relieved to have seen that he was at peace even though he knew (and we all knew) that this whole thing wasn’t fair. I’m also extremely grateful that I got to sit next to him on Saturday and hold his hand for a bit. I boasted about the Seahawks, complemented him once again on his tattoos, told him I loved him, and said goodbye.
The most tragic thing about all this is that Joe is leaving behind his young wife, Erica, and baby daughter, Olivia. If you feel compelled to help…please do. There is a fund set up to do so. Click the link below.