Austin Otey is a senior at NCHS, he was voted this year's Homecoming King. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Mills)
St. Jude helps NCHS student prepare to graduate
By Sarah Beckman
NORMAL - Despite undergoing chemotherapy more than 400 miles away from Normal, 18-year-old Austin Otey will graduate from Normal Community High School this year.
Austin was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in August after Bloomington doctors discovered a golf ball-sized blastoma on the back of his brain.
"We were scared to death," said Lisa Mills, Austin's mother. "We didn't know what was going on. Tests came back and it turned out the blastoma wasn't benign. They told us to go to St. Jude immediately."
Lisa explained that before arriving at the St. Jude Memphis Research Center affiliate, she had no idea that all expenses would be paid for.
"We really had no idea how wonderful of a place it was," said Lisa. "It covers everything from food, to housing, to medical care."
Austin currently resides in the long-term care house. He also keeps up on his studies by attending the K-12 school in the basement of the hospital. His homework is sent back and forth from Memphis to NCHS.
Because Austin has neuroblastoma at an older age than usual, his chances for survival are much higher. His mother is hopeful for a return to Normal later this spring.
"He's doing good," said Lisa. "He stops treatment in the middle of April and will stay down there for a few weeks so doctors can monitor him. We expect him to be home in early May."
Jake Kern lost his younger brother Andrew to cancer before he fought his own battle with ALL at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. (Photo by Laura Ewan/WJBC)
Jake 'finishes the job' for this brother
By Eric Stock
BLOOMINGTON - A man from Normal has had two experiences with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, once as brother and later as a patient.
Jake Kern lost his younger brother Andrew to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and said he had to overcome his anger toward cancer when he was later diagnosed with ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia).
"I just remember I hated cancer, I really wanted to take cancer and rip its head off," Kern said. "I had to do a 180-degree mindcheck. I really developed this mindset of finishing it for Andrew and being a fighter like Andrew was. That really -- in the end -- helped me to become who I am today.".
Jake said he didn't get to see his brother much when he was getting treatment at the hospital in Memphis as he was back in Ohio with the rest of his family. The family has since moved to Normal.
Jake, 22, is a junior construction management major at Illinois State University. He underwent his last chemotherapy last month.
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital was founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas. Its mission is to find cures for children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. St. Jude has treated children from all 50 states and from around the world.
From left to right, Haley, Cathe and Austin Carter share their story in the WJBC studio. (Photo By Paul Morello/WJBC)
Siblings fight cancer together
By Paul Morello
BLOOMINGTON - For one local family, surviving cancer is all about sibling support.
Haley Carter was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in her left shin in the fall of 2007 and 10 months later her brother Austin was diagnosed with the same cancer in the same bone in his right leg.
Austin and Haley's mom, Cathe, said Friday she was shocked when they were both diagnosed with the same rare cancer, but St. Jude Children's Research Hospital made dealing with the process much easier.
"You don't have to worry about what the insurance is covering, is that getting paid for, who's bill got paid, or anything like that because you never even see a bill," she said.
Thanks to treatment at St. Jude, Austin and Haley are both cancer free and are now attending Normal Community High School.
Austin said he was thankful that St. Jude not only pays for the cancer treatment, but also takes care of related costs for the next ten years.
"I had my leg amputated and now for the next ten years they'll pay for my prosthesis, so that's really cool," he said. "They're like a big family. They support us."
Morgan Rathke plans to attend nursing school next year. Her mother Pam and boyfriend Michael Nickrent joined in sharing what St. Jude means to them. (photo by Zach Dietmeier/WJBC)
Morgan goes from patient to nurse
By Zach Dietmeier
Ethan Loomis will graduate from Illinois State University this May with a degree in visual communications. (Paul Morello/WJBC)
By Stephanie Pawlowski
Illinois State University Senior Ethan Loomis is looking forward to graduation and his wedding this year.
It's a long way from his diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 17. He's been in remission since 2010.
"It was a big shock, obviously, and I kind of had to come to grips with the fact that my body was broken and in need of repair. It was hard to deal with, but I think it affected my parents a lot, maybe even more than me," Loomis said.
He visits the St. Jude Hospital and Research Center in Memphis ever year. Ethan said he was one of the only people his age at the hospital when he was admitted.
"I'm there in the waiting room with a bunch of younger kids, and that's hard to see because you know they're going through the exact same thing you're going through and they're at a much younger age and there's only so much they can understand about what's going in their lives," Ethan said.
St. Jude has a teen room with video games and lounge chairs.
St Jude was the first pediatric cancer research institution to place doctors, scientists and patients under one roof, creating a worldwide model for "bench-to-bedside" research and treatment of childhood cancers and other life-threatening diseases.
Cancer treatment 'down to a science'
By Sarah Beckman
HUDSON - What began with a daunting phone call in August 2011 is now ending in remission for a Hudson family.
Nick Barnett was diagnosed with leukemia after experiencing frequent high fevers and diarrhea when he was 5 years old.
After a blood test by Bloomington doctors, Nick was taken to the St. Jude Midwest affiliate in Peoria, and then immediately flown via private jet to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.
"It's amazing how you can live life and continue on what you think is normal," said Nicole Barnett, Nick's mother. "In a second, I can go back to the very day. It was horrendous."
Nick underwent intense chemotherapy for two years at the center, and made a "home away from home" at the hospital.
"It's like home for all of them," said Nicole. "The place is phenomenal, and we couldn't believe that we didn't have to pay for any of it. We had a stack of bills about 12 inches high, and burned them just because."
Even though her son's cancer was a shock, Nicole said that she is thankful that St. Jude was a choice.
"I look back and see that there are so many children going through so much stuff," she said. "We are blessed that Nick had leukemia instead of neuroblastoma because St. Jude's is the place to go. I mean, they have it down to a science."
Now, Nick attends school in Hudson and is in remission. He will be heading down to Memphis next month for a year-end check-up.
Become a Partner in Hope!
To become a Partner in Hope, pledge $20 or more a month. You can donate through the St. Jude link. Or call 1-800-374-4995.