January 17, 2007 Edition

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This photo of Jake (right) and his parents, Randy and Kim Worlow, and brother, Ben, was taken at Thanksgiving 2005. The family had no way of knowing that the next year Jacob would be diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The road to recovery

Jacob "Jake" Worlow plays in a basketball game for the Mountain Home Bombers in December. Since his diagnosis with cancer, he has continued to make as many practices and games as possible.

Pau Gasol (center), a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, paid a special visit to Jake and Ben at St. Jude on Jan. 10. He presented Jake with an autographed basketball.
Tish Worlow
Guest Writer

(Note: The following article was written by Tish (Mrs. Glen) Worlow of Sedgwick regarding her grandson's battle with cancer.)

In 2006 a 16-year-old boy named Jake found some knots on the left side of his neck. After showing them to his parents, they brought it to the attention of a doctor. At 6'6", Jake is an athlete, who from a small child has dreamed of going to college on a football or basketball scholarship and hopefully playing professionally. He could easily go on an academic scholarship, as well.

When he began to talk as a baby, Michael Jordan was his hero. He and his parents lived in Chicago at the time, and he and his dad watched most of the Chicago Bulls games. They have lived in Mountain Home since he was four.

Sometime in August, he told me that he had had to make a hard decision that week in telling his football coach that he had decided not to play football. His words were: "I've weighed it all and decided that if I am going to go to college with a scholarship, it will be with a basketball in my hand, not a football."

The reason I wanted people to know about his story is that we should never ignore changes in our body in this day. Jake showed me the knots on my birthday, Aug. 11, but because he had shown some in other places on his neck to a doctor that went away; there wasn't an urgency to see the doctor again.

When he began really training for basketball in September, he noticed that these knots had not gone away and were larger. He showed them to his doctor one day, the next day he saw a surgeon and the next day he had surgery, confirming tentatively, Hodgkin's lymphoma.

That's when our family had to face probably the hardest fact ever.

The day after surgery, the doctor confirmed that it was cancer, but probably stage one; no way of telling until he had a PET scan. Also, the day of surgery, his aunt Kelly contacted a fellow high school graduate, Sandy, who works in the transplant department at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. From that day, she became our most cherished advisor. She took the ball and ran just as Jake would have. She contacted a doctor who she thought would be best for Jake and his family, and she wasn't wrong. Words cannot express the impact that this petite woman has had, not only on Jake, but our whole family.

The day of surgery, of course, we were all very emotional, because they had already almost confirmed that it was cancer. However, Jake's dad, our son, Randy, suggested that we should keep the tears at a minimum in Jake's presence. We really tried hard, but didn't succeed all the time,

For three days, we all were doing all we could to keep a good face for him, but he reversed the effort in being the most emotionally strong person that I have ever known. The only tears that I saw come from him was when his 16-year-old cousin, Spencer, stepped forward to hug him.

He had to wait a week for all the contacts to be made and to get to see the specialist, so he went on with life as he knew it study, practice, play as any good high school athlete does. By this time all of Mountain Home High School knew that one of their heroes was in trouble. There cannot be enough praise heaped upon that school system, as administration, faculty and students began to mobilize on his behalf.

Jake was born into a family of faith, I would like to say GREAT FAITH, but I found that mine seemed very weak as the bad news kept coming. Then, however, people began to call other people all over the country to have him put on their prayer lists.

God began to make us take a look at the good that was coming and would come out of our tragedy. The last time that our family had had to deal with cancer in an immediate family member was in 1974 when his great aunt Jolene Jones died of breast cancer. All the family members who had left us in his lifetime were in their 70s, 80s and 90s, mostly of old age illnesses.

While we were waiting for him to come out of surgery, the discussion of "if it is cancer" turned to where is the best place to get treatment? Everyone agreed that probably Arkansas Children's Hospital or St. Jude would be best. The doctor confirmed; he told his parents to take him to ACH. However, after hearing that the family had already contacted St. Jude, he told them it would be even better.

It was also better for the family because most of us live a little over half way between their home and St. Jude. We have gotten to spend so much more time with them since the diagnosis. When he goes to St Jude, as many family members who can, including his maternal grandmother, who lives in Poplar Bluff, go to support him.

Upon entering St. Jude that first morning, our world changed even more. Here was this 6'6" handsome young man with the most beautiful big blue eyes anyone could ever wish for and a full head of thick hair, which contrasted with baldheaded babies, children of all ages and sick teens. Right away our attention focused on the little red wagons carrying children and wagons of all styles and colors coming through the doors and disappearing.

The waiting rooms were always full, sometimes with standing room only. We would get to see Jake for an hour or so and then he would disappear going from appointment to appointment.

He had to spend the first week there, but was provided a nice suite in the Grizzlies House for his parents, brother, Ben, and himself. This lodging is on the grounds within walking distance to the hospital.

It seemed that every new bit of news brought more anxiety. The first thoughts of the doctors were that he would be in stage one at worst, but that was not the final result. He was stage four, meaning that the cancer was in four places in his body. Every time another bad result was released, those big blue eyes looked more disappointed; but still not a word of anger, frustration maybe and always with poise and dignity.

Not taking anything away from my other grandchildren and teens that I know, but Jake is probably the most mature, respectful of all ages, 16-year-old boy I've known. Each time he met a new healthcare person, he rose to shake their hand and greeted them as an adult. That won the respect and admiration of them all, and since that day they have done everything within reason to accommodate his desires.

Jake didn't want to take the chemo at St. Jude because it would cause him to miss too much school and not be able to play basketball with his team. His biggest worry that I saw was that he was letting his team down by having to be out.

One day when I was sitting with him while he was taking a treatment, he remembered that his English class was doing a project that he was looking forward to being a part of presenting. He looked sad when he realized that he wasn't going to get the needle out in time, but it didn't linger.

He had 12 weeks of treatments, one or two a week, and after some he would go directly to school or ball practice. He also had to deal with the medical smell. He got to where he would start vomiting at the sight of the nurse, rubber gloves or the room. He would try not to look at the nurse to keep from starting.

By the time basketball season started, the chemo was doing its job, and he was becoming paler and weaker. He made it plain how badly he wanted to go ahead and try to play ball. The decision was made to bring a doctor from Le Bonheur hospital to put a port in his lower neck, instead of having one dangling from his arm like most patients.

The same day, they did a bone marrow biopsy, and when they wheeled him from one room to the other, at least 18 inches of his feet and legs were hanging off the bed. The first GOOD NEWS we had had in all this was that the cancer had not gone to the bone marrow. We all gave God the praise.

From the first contact with Sandy, she knew how Jake had had his focus on sports and told his doctor, Monika Metzger. She found out that Jake and Ben had followed Pau Gasol's career with the Memphis Grizzlies and started making plans secretly to let them meet him. That came to pass on Jan. 10, and Pau gave Jake an autographed basketball. I doubt if either of them will ever forget it.

He had such a rough time the last half of his chemo treatments that at times he had to stay in bed for a day or so. But if he wasn't vomiting and had the strength at all, he went to school or practice.

The PET scan taken Jan. 9 showed that two places still seem to be active, one so tiny the CAT scan didn't pick up, and the original spot, which is almost gone.

The chemo is behind him now, completed the day after Christmas. The hollow, sad eyes are getting that sparkle again. His color and vigor is returning, but most of all, that beautiful smile is back.

He starts six weeks of radiation five days a week on Jan. 17 at St. Jude. Right now, he is planning on staying at the Ronald McDonald House part of the time so he can go to the YMCA and practice ball and on game nights, play with his team. St. Jude is arranging his treatments to accommodate his schedule.

The trip to Memphis is only about an hour and half from Sedgwick now, and we are looking forward to helping him get this behind him so one day we will enjoy watching him play for the Indians, Razorbacks, Chicago Bulls or any college or pro team. If his desires change later, we will be just as excited to see him having a career in his field of choice. There is no doubt that it will be his and God's decision.

This article is to share a personal story. If there are those out there who are taking a wonderful life and family for granted, such as we were, or ignoring suspicious changes in your or your children's bodies, take action today.

Thanks to all those who do fund-raising and contribute on a regular basis or just once in a lifetime to St. Jude. They told our son's family that they would never get a bill from them. I'm thankful that they do have insurance that will help some, though. I pray that you will never need them, but if you do, they will be waiting with open arms and hearts.

Please continue to pray for Jake and the families who are going through such an illness and also those who have already gone through it. The road to recovery is long and hard.

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