When the 10-year anniversary reminder pops up on Facebook, Jackson knows he can’t ignore this milestone. This is no trivial memento of a forgotten outing or travel destination. This one is too special. Too important.
Now 29, it was exactly a decade ago he conquered Glioblastoma multiforme – an aggressive brain tumor that claims far more lives than it spares – and he isn’t going to let his gratitude go unnoticed.
He contacts Stacie Stapleton, M.D., his cancer doctor, and nurse Sonja Steinbrueck at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. He wants to thank them in person. It’s a small gesture that means so much to clinicians. “I always am humbled at the gratitude of the families we care for. We are doing our job but, in the process, we get to witness miracles and great happiness,” says Stapleton, who’s now chief of the oncology division at the hospital.
His mom, Cheryl, makes the trip too. Despite the facemask, she’s beaming with pride for the man Jackson has become. It takes seconds for Stapleton and Steinbrueck to share her sentiment. “Teenage years are rough enough without a cancer diagnosis,” Steinbrueck says. “But Jackson always came in with a smile and a great sense of humor. He was a sweet spot in my day,” Steinbrueck says.
Cheryl chokes back a few tears recalling her son’s youth and his steadfast ability to never quit. He conquered leukemia when he was 7 years old. But the jubilance of beating that cancer lasts only to high school. The brain tumor diagnosis was crushing. “We had to get off the internet because the news was so grim,” she recalls. “It was saving grace to be here and have such good people taking care of us,” she tells Stapleton and Steinbrueck.
Jackson deferred his admission to the University of Florida for a year to finish his chemotherapy. It took brain surgery, six weeks of radiation and 18 months of chemotherapy before the tumor realized it picked a fight with the wrong kid 10 years ago.
“We celebrate every successful treatment and there is not one that doesn’t make us excited. But Jackson has a special place in our hearts for so many reasons,” Steinbrueck says. “I probably told all of the other clinic nurses that Jackson reached out to us. Getting to see him now makes it all worth it.”