CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) – Victor Rivera is a proud member of the military. He spent 16 years in the Army and 16 years in the Air Force, but his career was cut short when he was diagnosed with cancer.
“It was hard. The military was my life,” he said, “It was really something I wanted to keep doing. I struggled with it. It was really painful for me. I was angry. I was really hurt.”
Rivera has stage four mantle cell lymphoma. There is no cure.
“Now I have nerve damage,” he said, “I have neuropathy in my legs, my back, and my hands. I do use a cane a lot because I hurt a lot. I can’t stand more than an hour. I have to sit down a lot of times.”
Along with the cancer, Rivera was battling PTSD and depression. He needed a way to take his mind off the pain.
“I needed something to do,” he said, “so I just started making little things at home using my hands.”
After tinkering with rope, knots, and beads, the Battle Buddy was born. The key chain has a simple design but a powerful message.
“No matter how hard your struggle is, you’re not alone in this world,” Rivera said.
Rivera gave his Battle Buddies to fellow vets at first, then a local restaurant started selling them.
“The smiles, people were going nuts over them,” he said, “so I was like maybe I have something here.”
The Battle Buddies even caught the eye of the Pentagon. An official, who was in town for a car show, spotted them and bought them all. They were so popular, he asked Rivera to make more.
“I ship out regularly to Afghanistan,” he said, “There’s a team there now that carries them on their gear. It makes me happy because I still have a connection with them.”
Rivera is now officially in the Battle Buddy business. He’s a one-man assembly line. He makes between 20 and 50 of them every day and ships them out every week.
“It’s helping me with my therapy,” Rivera said, “It’s helping me a lot because now I think I have a purpose.”
Doctors gave Rivera seven years to live. That was seven years ago.
“I’m still going to push,” he said, “I’m still going to keep going. I’m not going to stop.”
Whether it’s for soldiers battling on enemy lines, or someone battling a devastating illness, the Battle Buddies really live up to their name.
“It puts me in a happy place because I know that now the key chains are making a difference and helping others,” Rivera said, “and that makes me feel happy.”
Rivera credits his military background for being able to make the Battle Buddies. He packed parachutes, which means he knows all about ropes and knots.
Battle Buddies are $3 a piece. All the proceeds support veteran charities.
For more information, go to http://www.battlebuddykeychains.com/