Life on hold
Senior diagnosed with cancer must change his priorities in order to fight.
March 28, 2019
He was hurting, he had a lump in his neck, chest pains, night sweats, and felt so uneasy that he couldn’t hold down a meal. He went to see a doctor but he already knew what it was.
“We came home from the hospital that day and I got a call and I knew there was something wrong,” Jack said. “I gave my dad the phone, my mom went upstairs for awhile, and that’s when they told me.”
Eighteen-year-old senior Jack Gardner was diagnosed with Classic Hodgkin’s Lymphoma stage 3B cancer in early December. His life ever since has been put on pause.
“There was actually a sigh of relief to finally figure out what was going on and to be able to get started on the figuring out how to fix it,” Jack said. “And then just a lot of shock hit me, I just kind of sat there, thinking.”
Most of Jack’s siblings took the news very similar to the rest of the family. They were upset but actually relieved that Jack finally had a direction to go in. However, Jack’s youngest sibling, Donovan, reacted a little different. He immediately started worrying for his older brother’s health and well-being.
“I think Jack’s younger brother was very nervous and scared because when you’re 12 you don’t really know what that means,” Jack’s mom Cathy said. “You just hear the word cancer and that’s very scary.”
Jack has Classic Hodgkin’s Lymphoma stage 3B, the “b” meaning that he had symptoms before his diagnosis. Stage 3 means that the cancer is both above and below his diaphragm, stage 2 would just be above. The cancer is located in his neck, lower back, stomach, and clavicle. Jack was also chosen to be a part of a new clinical trial that used a different type of chemotherapy drug. It is supposed to erase the long term effects and lessen the harshness of the symptoms. They asked the doctors how long it would take for him to beat it, they were surprised by the answer.
“You hear about kids that have cancer and it’s years of battle but then mine would only take 4-6 months is what they determined,” Jack said. “And it’s just that the type of cancer that I was diagnosed with is so well known and so well studied that they knew how to treat it and what works best.”
All in for Jack
Jack loves to hang out with his friends, go skiing when available, playing sports, has a job at Farotto’s, and of course girls. That was what he did after his homework, during his free time, and on the weekends. Now after his diagnosis, his life mostly consists of sleeping and waiting, but he tries his best to do what he can.
“I still work at Farotto’s but I have only done a couple of shifts, I’m still able to do some stuff, not any heavy lifting but, busing tables and helping around as much as I can,” Jack said. “And even if I felt well enough to play sports I wouldn’t have the endurance, I’d be exhausted after a lap around the field.”
However, the thing that has been most affected is his school work. After doing a round of chemotherapy Jack may just feel too weak or tired to go to school and is also at risk of getting sick. The teachers have been modifying his work load. Teachers and counselors have reached out to Jack personally multiple times to either see how he’s doing or to help with homework.
“Most teachers are being very understanding and amazing,” Jack said. “Sometimes I just won’t go to school that entire week, because I just won’t be feeling that well or my blood counts that judge my immune system’s ability to fight infections will be too low.”
Jack goes to his scheduled chemotherapy treatments and sits in a chair while the doctors hook him up to tubes that send the chemo through him. Jack’s chemo schedule requires three days in a row of chemo infusions, and then another infusion four days after the last one. So an example would be Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday infusions and another infusion on the following Tuesday .
He sits there for hours watching movies, sleeping, and looking through gifts.
“The actual chemo going through is a lot less stressful and scary than I thought it was,” Jack said. “The days in the hospital are not the worst days, it’s when it hits my system that I will get more symptoms of the chemo like the feeling nausea and a loss of appetite.”
Jack tries his best to do the activities that take his mind off of things. He will hang with his friends as much as he can, see a movie occasionally, and play video games. However, most of the time he doesn’t have it in him or won’t be allowed to.
“On a daily basis I think of really just like my life’s on hold for a while, I mean I’m a pretty active guy, I do a lot of sports,” Jack said. “Putting that on hold, putting friends on hold, school on hold, to go in and fight this battle, so it just feels like everything is on pause.”
Even though Jack has to put his friends on hold, they push through. Friends will send care packages the night before Jack goes in for chemotherapy, which are full of goodies, pictures, homemade cards, comics, and anything Jack might like. Friends and other families have also created wristbands that say, “#allin4jack” and hats with his initials on them. Finally, other families are generous enough to bring dinner for the Gardners nightly.
“They’re always there, always someone to talk to,” Jack said. “Seeing those people wearing the wristbands shows me that that person is thinking of me, I also know that that is someone I can go to, someone that will always support me, someone to talk to and I know they’re a true friend.”
Just like his friends, his sisters and brothers make as much time as they can to hang with Jack. They play the occasional game of fortnite and call of duty, and puzzles will be left on the ground waiting to be finished.
“He’s a good brother, we joke around a lot,” Jack’s little sister Corrina said. “He’s pretty cool I guess.”
A hectic kind of busy
The diagnosis didn’t just put a strain on Jack but also his family. Having to run Jack to and from appointments, working their day jobs, making dinner, making sure jack gets his medicine and tending to anything else Jack needs, makes for little rest.
“One thing about this is that you’re very busy, there’s a lot of coming and going with appointments and everything,” Jack’s dad Dozier said. “It’s hectic because we can’t be [at home] a lot we both wanna be with him at his doctor appointment at his chemotherapy.”
Along with being busier than normal Jack’s parents have worries of their own.
“We’re scared that the chemo would cause some other cancer in the future and the fear that he’s going to have radiation because that can cause problems in the future,” Cathy said.
“We’re also worried about his academics because he missed so much school and trying to move onto college.”
Jack knew he was going to lose his hair, so to make the best out of it he bleached his hair before it went away. He tries to smile and laugh throughout each day no matter the circumstances he is in.
“He’s always had the attitude that ‘alright here’s a bump in my road going to have to get over this’, it’s only been a few times where he’s been mad,” Cathy said. “But his attitude with this has been amazing and I think that comes from his friends and all of us here knowing we can beat this.”
Steps for the future
Jack’s mom feels all the love and support given to the family and wishes the same for any other family going through something like this.
I just hope that anybody who is going through what Jack is going through, would feel just as supported as he is,” Cathy said. “I don’t know how it all came about but the #allinforjack is been beyond amazing and I wish that everyone should have a support system like that.”
Children’s Hospital has been taking care of Jack ever since the diagnosis. Introducing him to other kids with similar diagnoses, making sure he’s comfortable throughout each treatment and supporting him throughout the process. There, he has found a community of kids who are going through similar things.
“There are people that come from all over the country to just get treatment here [Children’s Hospital],” Jack said. “And you don’t think about that, you would think that it’s just your local place that you would go to but you hear about people who come from Arizona just because it’s so nice.”
Being so busy with going to and from appointments, taking care of Jack, and doing family things it ends up being hard for the family to keep family friends updated. The family signed up on CaringBridge, which is an online journal that anyone can look at who wants to be updated on Jack’s progress.
“It’s for anyone that wants to know what’s going on besides texting everybody and making phone calls it’s just awesome,” Cathy said. “It’s free and you can donate and that supports the whole process and I think that’s also very therapeutic when people comment and like your journal, it makes you feel like there are more people on your side.”
Jack plans to attend Mizzou next year and will study business. He hopes to put his life back on play and start doing the things he loves again. Jack recently had his mid-treatment scans, but he had a different feeling than the first tests, he could feel that things were good. And his intuition was right, everything was just about better than expected, the tumors have shrunk and everything is responding to the treatment better than expected.
“I’m excited about college and looking forward to Mizzou next year,” Jack said. “I can’t wait to be a normal kid again.”
You can find Jack’s CaringBridge journal here