By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Dassel-Cokato fifth-graders took some time the afternoon of May 7 to support their friend and fellow student, Noah Jarosz, as he battles cancer.
Several of Jarosz’s friends and several teachers volunteered to allow stylists from Broadway Hair Salon shave their heads in support of Jarosz.
Jarosz is the son of Mike Jarosz of Dassel and Jennifer Sauer (stepdad Dan Towey) of Plymouth. He has a younger brother, Austin, 8, who attends Dassel Elementary School; and a stepbrother Alex, 11, who attends Minnetonka Middle School.
Jarosz was officially diagnosed with Burkitt Lymphoma March 25 after being sick for more than a week and in the hospital for two days.
“What we thought was just a really bad virus turned out to be cancer,” Sauer told Jarosz’s classmates.
Jarosz and his father were sent to Hutchinson Health emergency room after going to the clinic because he had become so dehydrated.
Concerned about appendicitis, a CT scan was performed; it showed his appendix was healthy, but there was something wrong in his abdomen.
Jarosz and his father were sent to Minneapolis Children’s Hospital via ambulance, where Sauer and Towey met them.
The emergency room doctor at Children’s admitted Jarosz, and told the family he would be seen by a gastroenterologist in the morning.
After completing some lab work, the admitting doctor informed the family the results could be cancer.
“That was a huge bombshell to get at midnight,” Sauer said.
The following morning, about 25 different doctors “rapid-fired” through Jarosz’s room for evaluation and to provide opinions.
“It was quite a morning,” Sauer said, noting the doctor who became Jarosz’s oncologist later told the family she was 95-percent certain that morning he had Burkitt Lymphoma.
“That was hard to hear; our 10-year-old otherwise healthy boy now had cancer, according to these doctors whom I had never met before,” Sauer said.
Jarosz had surgery to place a special device under his skin for chemotherapy, blood draws, and IV fluids, and samples were taken of his bone marrow, spinal fluid, and tissues from his abdomen for pathology.
Following surgery, Jarosz was in the intensive care unit.
“Noah was really pretty sick. He had a high fever, and the largest problem at that point was his abdomen,” Sauer said.
Because cancer cells weep fluid, Jarosz’s abdomen was full of fluid, making it hard for him to breathe and causing nausea and electrolyte issues.
Jarosz also received his first small dose of chemotherapy less than 48 hours after being admitted to the hospital.
Burkitt lymphoma is a very rapidly growing cancer, doubling in size every 24 hours.
Because of this, “Noah’s chemo has had to be really intense, but only goes for a relatively short period of time,” Sauer said. “Because it’s so intense, it’s very hard on Noah.”
Every three weeks, Jarosz receives a chemotherapy treatment that takes approximately one week.
“Then he gets discharged from the hospital and the waiting begins,” Sauer said, noting his blood counts drop about seven to 10 days after chemotherapy.
“That is one of the most dangerous times, as Noah has no ability to fight off any virus or illness,” she added.
Jarosz’s chemotherapy treatments should be complete by early July.
Grateful for community support
Despite an attempt to keep things as normal as possible for Jarosz’s siblings, his needs have become the focus of the family’s daily decisions.
Work schedules have been juggled so Jarosz can have one of his parents with him as much as possible.
Along with destroying cancer cells, chemotherapy also wrecks Jarosz’s immune system, and it is very important he not get sick.
Therefore, hanging out with friends is limited, along with going out in public. When Jarosz does go out, he typically wears a mask.
Not being able to go to school has been a huge adjustment for Jarosz, who “loves” school, according to Sauer.
Sauer is grateful their church broadcasts the Sunday service online, because church is one of the places he should not go with a weakened immune system.
Although it has not been easy, “prayer and support” from family and friends has been helpful, Sauer said.
“It’s been great to see cards, gifts, posters, text messages, and Caringbridge messages from all of them,” Sauer said, noting it would be nice if Jarosz could have more visitors, but that is not possible now. “It means the world to him to know that so many people care.”
Whenever he gets a package from school, Jarosz is shocked and humbled, saying, “Wow, people really do care about me at school,” Sauer noted.
A special moment was when Dassel Elementary School teacher Heidi Little and her sons brought a box for Jarosz from Dassel Elementary school.
“Noah just cried when he saw all the teachers that had signed the card,” Sauer said. “They aren’t even his teachers anymore, but they sure were full of well wishes.”
With Jarosz spending so much time in the hospital, having the whole family home at the same time has become more meaningful, she noted.
Letting go of the little things
Jarosz’s family has made many trips to Target for slushies, or the meat market for seafood, when Jarosz’s appetite is up for it.
“There are times when food just doesn’t taste good, or he cannot physically eat; you just beg and pray for things to get better, as you know he needs nutrition,” Sauer said.
The chemotherapy treatments caused Jarosz to have mouth sores that made it impossible to eat at times,
“Gone are the days where I get mad when he doesn’t finish what was on his plate,” Sauer said. “The days of ‘what do you feel like eating’ are here.”
Less focus is placed on day-to-day stressers that used to seem so important before cancer entered their lives.
“Suddenly trying to solve all the world’s problems, like we so oftentimes want to do after a stressful day, becomes irrelevant,” Sauer said.
For those interested in supporting Jarosz, a GoFundMe site has been set up, as well as an account at First National Bank in Cokato.
Donations can be made on Jarosz’s GoFundMe site, or by dropping them off at the bank.