FARMINGTON — While cancer can be devastating, David Montoya has learned it can also unite.

While Montoya was being treated for cancer, he learned about Justin Solomon, a Piedra Vista High School graduate being treated in North Carolina for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Montoya, who is a sergeant first class in the New Mexico Army National Guard, had recently returned to Farmington from a tour in Iraq when doctors told him about his own diagnosis. On Sept. 11, 2012, Montoya was diagnosed with stage two colorectal cancer. Shortly after, he left Farmington to go to a treatment facility in Glenwood Springs, Colo.

"I never felt so helpless and alone, even though I had friends and family around me," Montoya said.

Derek Martain grills bison meat on Thursday at his home in Farmington.
Derek Martain grills bison meat on Thursday at his home in Farmington. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

Montoya served in the Army for 22 years, including two combat tours in Iraq. But, he said, he didn't fear that anything would happen to him then.

"When I got diagnosed with cancer, everything changed," he said. "That was the first time in my life that I felt so weak, so helpless."

While going through treatment, he found out about Justin Solomon, 19, on Facebook.

"I'd get on Facebook, and boom, up would pop Justin," said Montoya, 42.

He said whatever he was going through, it seemed like Solomon was going through the same thing, but he was still smiling his "big, beautiful smile."

"I knew it wasn't always smiles," Montoya said.

But seeing the pictures helped him.

"When I was at the end of my rope and thought I couldn't go on, he gave me that hope," Montoya said.

In July, Montoya went through his last test for cancer, which came back negative.

After he finished his treatments and returned to Farmington, Montoya decided he wanted to meet Solomon, who had inspired him during his treatments. His youngest son, who is now 13, attended a baseball camp at Piedra Vista High School. Montoya asked the coach to get him in touch with Solomon. The coach contacted Solomon's mother, Jenn.

"He texted and said he had someone who wanted to meet Justin," Jenn Solomon said.

Last summer, Justin Solomon and Montoya met for the first time. They have been friends ever since.

This past fall, Montoya saw on Facebook that Justin Solomon, who was going through treatment in North Carolina, hunted white-tailed deer in the fall with some of Jenn Solomon's friends.

The hunt frustrated Justin Solomon, who had the sun in his eyes while trying to shoot a buck. Because of the chemotherapy, the teenager lost more than half of his vision.

Montoya said he understood the frustration because he also lost vision during his treatment. He wanted Justin Solomon to have a positive hunting experience.

"I started thinking of this as a personal mission of mine," Montoya said.

Montoya contacted a friend from high school, Leon Reval, who is a member of the legislative council of the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

Reval set up a private hunt at Chama Land and Cattle Company, and the tribe donated a bison for the hunt.

Everything was worked out. The group planned to leave Monday and go hunting on Tuesday. But when Monday morning came, Justin Solomon was sick.

"I was almost certain we weren't going to be able to go," Jenn Solomon said.

The family took Justin Solomon into urgent care, and he started to feel better, so the group decided to continue with the hunt.

"By the time I got to the lodge, I felt 10 times better," Justin Solomon said.

On Tuesday, the group headed out for the hunt, and Justin Solomon shot a 700-pound bison cow.

It took two shots to kill the animal, which was donated by the Jicarilla Apache tribe. The bison was the first animal Solomon had ever killed.

The whole adventure was filmed by James Frasure of Primal Anthem Productions. Frasure said while he first went there as only a producer, it turned into more than another one of his outdoor film productions.

"You're a part of an event that's a once-in-a-lifetime hunt," he said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.