Thirteen-year-old Jayden is known and loved by many at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital–nurses know they’ll get a smiling patient upon entering his room, housekeepers come by to give him hugs, but perhaps he’s most known for being the ultimate Tampa Bay Rowdies fan.
“I saw my brother playing soccer when I was little,” Jayden says. “When he would practice, I’d do what he would do, but on the sideline. And I was actually good at it, so I stayed with it until I got sick.”
“He’s done big things in soccer,” says Jayden’s mom, Alicia. “He played club and he was also able to play for his middle school where he was actually one of only two sixth graders that were allowed to play on the field.”
The young soccer star’s life changed on March 30 of this year. Jayden fell at school after dealing with three months of pain in his lower leg. As an athlete, he didn’t think much of the on-going pain.
“I was outside at P.E. playing soccer with some of the kids, and I slipped over the ball and landed right on my tumor,” Jayden explains. “I got up, but the pain was the worst pain I’ve felt.”
That tumor was osteosarcoma, the most common bone cancer in children and young adults. It is usually found in the legs and arms.
“Never in a million years did I think that this could be cancer when he fell,” Alicia says. “I said, ‘Come on, Jayden, you’re a soccer player–get up and just go back to class.’”
But this time, Jayden couldn’t get up. This led them to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital where he has been receiving care from Peter Shaw, M.D., deputy director of the Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute.
“Usually there’s no fever and no weight loss associated with osteosarcoma,” Shaw explains. “It’s just a lump and you get pain if the lump pushes on some nerves. Sometimes the bone gets so weakened, because this tumor makes its own weak bone, and the child presents with a pathologic fracture–meaning they hear a snap and their bone breaks.”
Shaw says parents should trust their intuition when it comes to their child’s health.
“Parents know their kids,” Shaw says. “Even if a physician doesn’t think it’s a big deal and if the pain doesn’t get better, they need to be proactive and get it further evaluated.”
Thirty percent of patients diagnosed with osteosarcoma are metastatic to the lungs, which means the cancer has spread to that area. In Jayden’s case, the cancer was only found in his lower left leg. This meant Jayden would need to undergo 29 total weeks of treatment–10 weeks of chemotherapy in six cycles followed by surgery to remove the tumor and multiple plastic surgeries, including a bone and skin graft, to repair his leg. The removal of the tumor is followed by 17 more weeks of chemotherapy and then close surveillance.
“He truly is a strong kid, let me tell you,” Alicia says. “He keeps me going. In the beginning, there were days that I just want to give up and cry, I hated seeing him sick and I hated seeing his hair falling out. But he said, ‘Come on, Mom, suck it up!’ That’s his favorite saying.”
He keeps nurses on their toes, too, like surprising them with silly string attacks. Sometimes a nurse will give him a can of silly string so he can spray another nurse. Those moments help them get through the tough days.
“They honestly treat Jayden like he’s theirs,” Alicia says. “They truly care about him.”
Today, just before the holidays, Jayden is nearing the end of chemotherapy. He has a long road ahead, including physical therapy and occupational therapy, but he and his family are staying positive.
“Now that we’re at the end, what I can say is that God definitely has a plan for him. He has a purpose,” Alicia says. “I believe he’s going to have an amazing testimony.”
Jayden has big dreams of one day playing for the Rowdies, who have visited him multiple times in the hospital, and attending the University of South Florida to pursue a career as a crime scene technician. But first, he plans to volunteer at Johns Hopkins All Children's as a resource and support system for other children who are battling cancer.
“He’s a wonderful, sweet kid. He’s got a great smile and a very supportive, nice family,” Shaw says. “That he wants to give back by being a support system for other kids tells you everything you need to know about him.”
Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Cancer to learn more about the Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.