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A Success Story - Jared Howatineck

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Jared Howatineck 

Jared is attending the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Pennsylvania,  majoring in Mechanical Engineering.  Jared's experience with cancer helped him uncover a love for cars.  He is an Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (A.L.L.) survivor.  In his own words:

'Bamboo Eater'" was at my side through every aspect of my illness, good and bad.  At times, I almost squeezed the stuffing out of him.  He never complained. When his seams began to 'give,' he needed surgeries too.  I wiled away hours making coats for him, sewing squares of felt by hand to try to protect him from further wear.  It still bothers me that he became threadbare because of our ordeal.  My stuffed panda bear did not care if I was bald from chemo, or bloated from medications.  He never held a grudge when I was irritable.  Even now, the expression on his face is comforting.

My childhood was just that — my childhood, bear and all.  The diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, or A.L.L. was reached when I was four years old. Painful medical tests, surgeries and long hospital stays were a big part of my formative years.  I went through the entire three-year program of chemotherapy and one week after my final treatment, I re-lapsed.  The only option left was a transplant.  Therefore, at age seven, I had an experimental stem cell transplant from my oldest brother.  This meant more chemotherapy, a course of full body radiation, additional surgeries and several biopsies.

There was an activities room on 8 North, where patients could go if they were well enough.  I did not go very often because my fellow ward mates had an odd appearance.  With puffy faces and barely any hair, attached to IV machines with numerous lines, they looked like bizarre marionettes.  IF I did not have to see them, I did not realize I was one of them.

Growing up this way taught me a lot.  Life is not always easy.  It is not always fair.  However, I learned to enjoy myself in spite of the circumstances.  My dad and I would play practical jokes on my oncologist and the nursing staff because they needed a good laugh as much as we did.  Once we protected my knees with tin foil and then taped layers of caps over that.  When my doctor tapped my knee with his rubber mallet, the popping made him jump, then he developed an ear to ear grin. Stepping into the hall, he called to some med students to come and witness this odd reaction.  Upon striking my other knee ,the group jumped in unison and we burst out laughing  Just a silly joke like that gave everyone the 'ok' to lighten up in the midst of their serious daily grind. 

Years of complications followed the transplant.  These events helped me choose my priorities.  I try not to sweat the small stuff when life's day to day trials tempt me to feel stressed.  I've already overcome obstacles that most eighteen year olds can't even imagine.  There is a saying: 'Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.'  Well, unless you have spent seemingly endless days in isolation on the cancer ward, and heard the belly laugh of another child enjoying the antics of a volunteer clown (knowing you can't have a visit this time because your immune system has shut down); or lain awake at night listening to the hushed voices of staff, a wailing siren in the distance and rain beating against your darkened window; feeling very alone despite the fact that one of your parents is dozing in the chair beside your bed; until you have listened to the anguish in the cries of the parents who have just lost their child—then you cannot fully understand how and why my childhood shaped me into the person I am today.

This leads me to a theory I have: it may sound odd, but a taste of childhood cancer might be good for most people.  It could give them a perspective that cannot be obtained any other way.  They would gain an understanding of and an appreciation for LIFE.  They would have experiences that would take them a long way in a short time, towards maturity.  They too could learn to be positive when all the odds are stacked against them, to be tenacious and focused and learn not to judge people just by appearances.  Gain compassion far beyond their years and hone their sense of humor to a razor's edge.  …  In retrospect, my childhood was normal to me.  I do not know if I would change anything, even if I were able.

People often ask if I have an interest in pursuing a career in the medical field - given my experience as a patient.  The answer is an emphatic 'No!'  I assembled many model cars on 8 North.  I also spent a lot of time drawing pictures of cars with exaggerated lines and over sized tires.  Cars could take me places far from the hospital.  Automobiles and their design have always interested me.  I hope to pursue a career in mechanical engineering and one-day build concept cars or custom vehicles.  A vivid imagination helped me as a child; I hope to apply it in my career as an adult.

I have volunteered for many years at the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life - for several years I was the torch bearer in the survivors' march.  I am an annual volunteer at the Johns' Hopkins 'Plunge for Patients' in Wildwood, N.J.  I was a volunteer for 'Partners' helping the physically challenged children with gymnastics.

Thank you Cancer Survivors' Fund for all your support and caring while I pursue my career goals.”

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