I don’t even know how old my brother was when he was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, but he was still a little boy. It’s a rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or in soft tissue. It is found in two to four of every 1,000,000 children under the age of 19. My brother was unfortunately one of those few. The most common areas in which it occurs are the pelvis, femur, humerus, ribs and clavicle. The most common side effects are bone pain, bruising and swelling. Long-term survival rate is less than 10%. When Jon was diagnosed, the doctors gave him six months to live. The thing with Jon was, he not only had cancer, but he had Type I Diabetes, too. His pancreas was already struggling to do its job, and Diabetes creates a struggle for other organs over time. My mom told me that when Jon was a little boy, he started complaining of pain in his hip and leg. She took him to the doctor and they found a spot, but were told it was nothing more than a bruise. My mom and her mother’s instinct knew that it wasn’t “nothing”. She took him to another doctor and that's where she heard the "D-word" in reference to Jon for the first time: "Diagnosis". It's the word that will make anyone uneasy. After much testing, they confirmed her worst nightmare: Jon, her baby boy, had a rapidly growing bone cancer and, as the doctors put it, he would "definitely" not live to be a teenager. This all happened before I was born. I remember my brother constantly getting better and worse over the course of my childhood. Even when he was healthy, regular doctors appointments were still necessary. When he would go into remission, Jon and my parents would have to go for checkups every month in Birmingham. I remember before every checkup, my brother and my dad would both be so nervous that they would get physically ill and throw up. My parents bought a big van with a bed in the back that lies down so that Jon could be more comfortable on the trips from our hometown of Arab, AL to Birmingham. I was so embarrassed of that van, but it made life easier for Jon. His life was our priority. Always.
Jon had a long-time girlfriend who he had been dating throughout high school, and she was almost always there doing whatever she could for him; mostly trying to keep his mind off of being sick and keep his spirits up. He didn’t like being sick, and he loved to help others. He loved football and basketball and went to as many games as he could. He had such a passion for life and always had a smile on his face. Jon was an awesome basketball player. He was in the gym any time it was open, lifting and "hooping!" When he couldn’t sleep, he would go to the 24-hour gym in Arab and work out, even if it was 3am. He played basketball even when he was taking chemo. I remember when his best friends and teammates Andrew, Brad, and Brian proudly shaved their heads for him. He played basketball any time he was allowed to, and I think he could have gotten a scholarship for college had he been healthy. He could knock down some threes! White boy could make it happen! He hit nearly every shot he took. I still remember him saying, “SWOOSH!!” and smiling so big when he would knock ‘em down in the basketball goal in our driveway. And shoe fanatic! Man, he had more shoes than I did! He probably had every Jordan ever made at that time. He bought a lot of clothes too, but anyone who knew him knew he would only wear XL sized clothing, even though a Medium would have fit. He had so many clothes that he turned the game room in our house into his closet! He loved to shop. If you needed something, Jon would make sure you got it whether he knew you or not; that's just the kind of person he was. Kind, generous, compassionate, loving, selfless, and full of love. One Christmas, when furbys were popular, he saw in the newspaper that a few kids asked Santa for furbys. At the time, nobody could find or afford them. What did he do? He went out, found furbys, and bought as many of them as he could find for the kids.
I remember Jon for all of these things, but I remember him most of all for his faith. Every chance he got, he and my dad were at a church revival. They were always praying and believing God for his healing. I remember going outside one day and seeing Jon walking around the rocks near the flowerbeds just praying out loud for his healing. His eyes were closed, his hands were lifted, and it was just him and God. He was literally begging God for his life like I had never heard anyone do before. I remember walking in on my dad lying in bed with his eyes closed repeating, “Thank you Jesus for healing my son, by Your stripes, he is healed”. He kept saying it over and over again, and I stood outside the door and listened for hours until I fell asleep. We all prayed constantly for his healing. Jon loved God with all his heart. I remember before Jon went into his last surgery, my family and the medical team stood in a circle to pray. Jon looked up at my mom who was crying, said “Why are you crying momma?” and he started to cry. Then he just prayed. My family and the whole community prayed for Jon. Everyone was so excited because six months before he passed away, he married his long-time high school girlfriend. Everyone who knew Jon was there, and it was the most beautiful wedding I have ever seen. He was so happy on that day. Jon was a fighter and we all knew that if anyone could survive this horrific fight, it would be him. They say "only the good die young," and Jon was the BEST.
I will never forget this night as long as I live. My sister, Jill, had put me to bed in my parents room like she always did when mom and dad were in Birmingham with Jon. Around 1:30 am, my parents quietly snuck into the room and lay down beside me. Mom and Dad didn’t know I had woken up. I heard my dad say quietly, “I can’t believe my little boy is dead”. I remember feeling a tear roll down my cheek and into the pillow. I pretended I hadn't heard anything. I hoped with my whole heart that it was a dream and I went back to sleep. The next morning, my parents told me that Jon had passed away, but that he is always standing over me to protect me. I remember falling over like someone had punched me in the stomach. The days following have been hard, even after so many years. Jon still lives in my heart and influences the things I do today. He is my guardian angel and sometimes I can feel him walking beside me. He is the reason I want to help others. He is the reason for my unshaken faith in God. He is the reason for this wonderful organization that I am so thankful for. He is the reason I am the person I am. Because of him, I want to help others find the same courage he found. I want to give them joy for today and hope for tomorrow. I hope you will join me and Austin in our quest to completely change the lives of kids just like my bubba, Jon.
- Jenna King