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When Jack met Kevin: Mary Bridge Children’s patient faces cancer with humor

Kevin is the name that Jack picked out for his tumor when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.

By Kortney Scroger

In February 2021, 12-year-old Jack Smith met Kevin.

Kevin is the name that Jack picked out for his tumor when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.

Kevin was found during a routine checkup. Jack appeared to have a bad cough, but the actual cause was a tumor blocking Jack’s airway.

“I remember the doctor pulling us aside, taking us to another room and pulling up the X-ray,” Jack’s dad Eric says. “I'll never forget that. It felt like somebody punched me in the gut.”

After nearly eight months of chemotherapy (with a few years of treatment left), Jack has become a regular at Mary Bridge Children’s hematology and oncology clinic where he receives treatment.

“Sometimes I have a sense of humor,” Jack explains. “One time, my nurse walked in, and I was like ‘Hello, Esther — the usual, please’ before she set me up for chemo. Treatment usually starts out with me talking about food and always includes me asking if Olaf can visit.”

Child Life partners with Jack

Olaf is Mary Bridge Children’s facility dog and part of the Child Life Services team at Mary Bridge Children’s. This team is supported by community donations and consists of child life specialists who work with patients in developmentally appropriate ways to reduce trauma and increase comfort during a hospital or clinic visit. 

As with many oncology patients, Jack has a fondness for the Child Life.

“I see them a lot, and they’ve helped me get through what is happening,” Jack says. “I don't think I would have very much sanity left if it weren't for them. They are just really great.”

Child Life has helped Jack through painful procedures, cured boredom in the hospital and even helped Jack talk to his classmates about his diagnosis.

“When Jack was diagnosed, all three of the sixth-grade classes at his school were super worried about him,” Jack’s mom Demorie says. “So, Child Life virtually visited the classroom with information about cancer and Jack’s treatment, including a question-and-answer session. The teachers still rave about how they did that and how well they did with the kids.”

Jack also participates in the donor-supported Beads of Courage program where patients earn special beads after certain procedures like blood draws. Jack jokes that he has “too many beads for sure.”

“We use the bag of beads when we know we're going to the clinic, and we take that in,” Demorie says. “Generally, he stores them in a wooden box that’s in a prominent place in our family room. He's very proud.”

A focus on the whole family

Cancer is an all-encompassing diagnosis. To help care for Jack’s whole being, as well as his family, Mary Bridge Children’s offers appointments with a psychiatrist for Jack and support groups for his parents and his older brother, in addition to a social worker to help everyone along the way.

“Our social worker Valaree has been really good about showing us potential resources and checking back in,” Demorie says. “I kept telling her that we didn’t need the help. She sat me down and said, ‘Your time is worth a lot. And at the very least, you know, take the housekeeping, take the gardening, take something that's going to help you with time, even if you don't need the financial stuff.’ She changed my perspective on things. She’s been super supportive since the very beginning.”

Jack’s cancer journey continues

Jack has a long road ahead, but according to his parents, he hasn’t let the “big C” get in his way.

“When Jack was first diagnosed, he looked at my husband and me and said, ‘You know, it's OK. If one of us had to have cancer, I am glad it’s me,’” Demorie says. “He said that because he knew he could handle it. His incredibly positive outlook is one of the many reasons we are proud of him.”

Eric and Demorie are also proud that Jack didn’t let his treatment impede his studies. His teachers set up an online classroom, and he logged in every day — even during procedures like blood transfusions. Despite everything, he graduated sixth grade with honors.

The way Jack sees it, cancer is just a speed bump on his way to becoming a marine biologist. As a lover of the Pacific Northwest, he can’t wait to get back to mountain biking, hiking and sightseeing.

“I want to go into marine biology, because I love everything about the Northwest,” Jack says. “You get the mountains, the birds, the Puget Sound, whales. I like all of that stuff — it’s very cool. I can’t wait to get back out there.”

You can support kids like Jack by attending this year’s Mary Bridge Children’s Festival of Trees. All proceeds from the event benefit Mary Bridge Children’s Foundation and expanding access to high-quality care close to home. Register today.