‘I’m fighting as hard as I can’: Spokane teen with terminal cancer outlives odds
SPOKANE, Wash. — Jessica Eckersley has her home decked out in Christmas decorations already. Signs and lights are up in her living room, stockings hanging above the fireplace and a countdown to the holiday in a hallway toward the entrance of her home.
On the front door lies a tradition for Eckersley’s family: photos of Jaden Baer and his siblings with Santa.
It’s a tradition Jaden intends to fulfill this year, too.
“I’m kicking butt,” he told 4 News Now.
He’s kicking cancer’s butt, that is. He’s surpassed the deadline doctors gave him in February: up to nine months to live.
Friday marks the nine month anniversary since he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Doctors say he has a diffuse midline glioma.
“I’m fighting as hard as I can, hoping as much as I can,” he said.
It’s working, as he’s still here. He’s trying to be optimistic for not just himself, but the people he loves.
“Even when I was, like, breaking down myself, I wanted to be there for everyone else,” he said.
Jaden continuously says he wants to make sure everyone else is doing okay, despite going through cancer himself.
“That’s how Jaden has always been and it’s just so amazing because when his life got changed, he didn’t,” Eckersley said. “He kept going and he kept being strong for everybody. His biggest fear isn’t his life, his biggest fear is everybody else’s life being affected.”
There is no longer a specific timeline like doctors originally gave in February.
“They’re just taking it month by month and MRI by MRI,” Eckersley said.
When 4 News Now spoke with the family in February, they were hoping they’d find a doctor somewhere to be able to take the tumor out. The tumor has also shrunk from its original size. However, unfortunately, Eckersley said the tumor is growing on a part of his brain called the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that is involved with daily activities – affecting heart rate, blood pressure, appetite and more.
The last nine months were filled with doctors visits, cancer treatment and all its side effects. Eckersley says it’s tough to figure out if the way he’s feeling is a sign of him declining or if it’s a side effect of the cancer treatment. Doctors told the family that a person with his diagnoses would decline quickly.
Jaden is feeling a lot more tired than he used to. Eckersley says now when he attends school, he can get through one day but then needs to be picked up halfway through the next.
Jaden is also starting to lose some short term memory.
“He takes a lot of pride in his friends and family, and when he can’t remember that he just had a conversation with someone, that makes him a little frustrated,” Eckersley said. “It’s hard to watch as a parent.”
Through the tough times and hours of driving to Seattle for treatment, there’s also been a lot of good.
He’s created many new memories with his friends and family, and he’s surrounded by a lot of love.
Jaden created a bucket list in February when he was diagnosed. He’s been able to cross off things he’s done including meeting his favorite Youtuber Jacksepticeye over Facetime, getting a tattoo with his family, flying in a helicopter and shooting.
His favorite thing, though, is just spending time with his friends and family.
“It’s been awesome. I’ve gotten so much closer to my family,” he said.
The pandemic did put a kink in his bucket list plans of traveling. Although COVID-19 has changed a lot for everyone, including Jaden, Eckersley says it makes them feel a little less isolated battling cancer.
It’s been nice for the family, knowing that everyone around them is also being careful because of the pandemic.
Once diagnosed, they knew Jaden’s school schedule would be altered, and he’d be missing class due to treatments and his health. But because of the virus, everyone’s school schedule changed, too.
“He’s not alone. That’s really good as a parent to know that your child is not singled out,” Eckersley said.
Jaden is hoping – believing – he’ll have another Christmas photo on the door and that he’ll get through New Years.
Looking back when he was first diagnosed, Eckersley thinks everything has gone better than she thought.
“In the very beginning, I didn’t even know if he would make it to Christmas and that was really hard as a parent, to think you already had your last Christmas with your child,” she said. “But, it’s gone so much better than anticipated. For that, we’re incredibly grateful.”
Another big milestone Jaden wishes to get to is graduating from Mead High School in June.
Eckersley says it would be huge if he did, but she doesn’t want to ask for too much.
“The small victories have been a blessing. I try not to ask for the world. I’m just taking it one milestone at a time,” she said.
When 4 News Now asked Jaden if he think’s he’ll make it to graduation, he believes he will.
“Even if I don’t, I mean, I’ve had 17 of the best years that I could ask for with the best people I could ask for, the best friends,” he said. “I’ve made it this far, this happy.”
Jaden and his family are still collecting donations on GoFundMe for having to continue travel back and forth to Seattle for treatment, as well as for future bucket list items.
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