American Culture

Jacy was a fighter

Jacy-McAlexander

The next time someone complains about kids today being lazy, entitled, not working hard, etc., please take a moment to share my nephew’s story. Also, remind them of what the students at Parkland have done.

How do you measure a year?

525,600 minutes. 8,760 hours. 365 days. 52 weeks. 12 months. 1 year.

For the last couple of days “Seasons of Love” has been rattling around in my brain, because really, how do you measure a year? “In daylights, in sunset. In midnights, in cups of coffee.” I’ve known for several days that today would be an emotional day, even more so for my sister and brother-in-law, my niece, and my parents. A year ago my nephew, Jacy, lost his battle with cancer at 17 years old, in the middle of finals week of his junior year of high school.

I wish that I had been as close to my nephew as I am to his sister. Jacy was 12 years younger than her (to the day). I was still at Iowa State when she was born and even after I graduated, was home at least a couple of times a year. By the time Jacy was born, I was married, had kids and moving every couple of years – getting home wasn’t as easy.

On April 6, 2009, Jacy (8 yo) was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare childhood bone cancer. It was also my mom’s 69th birthday – happy fucking birthday, your grandchild is facing death.

But Jacy was a fighter. His doctors said he could be a poster child for how treatment plans were supposed to go. His weight loss wasn’t horrible, he had a better appetite than most, and he only got a few weeks off of the chemo schedule that they had laid out. By the time I got to see him a year later, you would never have guessed that he’d been sick save for the scar on his rib cage from the chemo port.

Jacy was in remission for almost 7 years. He relapsed when he was 15, just a few weeks before the anniversary of his initial dx. Cancer is shitty. We all know that. Ewing Sarcoma is particularly shitty. Survival rates for relapse is around 30%, the older the patient, the worse the odds.

For just over 2 years Jacy was in and out of treatment. Each round the time between treatments got a little closer together. Until the last round, he was the first cancer patient to use a new drug. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop the increasing aggression in the cancer. He developed new tumors while the others were shrinking. At 17 he was old enough to make his own medical decisions – if you didn’t know, the medical field considers 15 old enough to make decisions about medications and treatments. With in a few days of the discovery of the new tumors, Jacy was paralyzed from the waist down. Surgery to remove the tumors was risky – at best he would be permanently paralyzed. At worst, the doctors weren’t sure he would even survive surgery.

He survived exactly one week after he stopped treatment. His cat died of cancer two days later. The hardest part of his funeral was seeing the faces of his friends – most of whom he had known since preschool. We’ve all seen the news with the faces of the kids who have lost friends in school shootings – it pales in comparison to seeing those kids a few feet from you.

The amazing thing about Jacy isn’t that he fought cancer, but what he did with 17 years on this orb. Jacy was always an adult trapped in a young persons body – in 2008 when he was in 1st grade he was actively following the presidential primaries. His favorite candidate was Barack Obama, much to the chagrin of his father, chairman of the county Republican caucus. Jacy thought it was great that I was living in HI and volunteering with the Obama campaign. I sent him leftover campaign posters for Christmas. According to my niece, Jacy was over the moon about getting them – my brother-in-law less so.

When Jacy was in elementary school he decided that he was going to collect 1M pop tabs – roughly 500lbs – to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House. RMHC sells the aluminum tabs as scrap metal to help keep things running. Jacy hit his goal in middle school, and then set his sights on collecting a ton of tabs. Between friends, family, 4-H, and friends of friends Jacy hit his ton just before he passed. Sadly, he never got to see the final tally, 3,520 lbs – almost double his goal. The day before he died, Jacy did an interview from his hospice bed as part of a human-interest story for the local CBS affiliate. Please take the time to watch, but make sure you have some Kleenex handy.

Jacy’s story doesn’t stop there. He inspired so many to do more.

During the State Fair, 4-H collected close to 1,000lbs of tabs.

The Jacy McAlexander Memorial Cross Country meet garnered another 600lbs – all the schools participating collected tags.

Jacy had been manager of the high school football team. The team’s placekicker raised $12,000+ for cancer research by gathering pledges for each field goal and PAT he made during the season.

The team lost the last playoff game before the state finals. The team that beat them raised $500 from their fans during that game, inspired solely by Jacy’s team carrying his jersey on to the field and naming him honorary captain. At the state finals a bunch of young men who had never met Jacy carried his jersey and his story forward.

Last weekend, instead of getting ready for a graduation party, Jacy’s friend staffed a blood drive he had coordinated in Jacy’s memory.

And the pop tabs continue to pour in. My sister has set a goal of collecting a ton of tabs by 9/5/2019 – Jacy’s 19th birthday.

The next time someone complains about kids today being lazy, entitled, not working hard, etc., please take a moment to share my nephew’s story and what he has inspired others to do. Also, remind them of what the students at Parkland have done.

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