Most 15-year-olds can be found spending time with friends and going to movies. Most 4-year-olds are busy with pre-school classes and play dates.
Two Ahwatukee Foothills residents don’t exactly fit those norms.
Jacob Valencia, 15, is fighting cancer. His next-door-neighbor Madison Short, 4, started a charity drive to help raise money for the boy she calls “My Jacob.”
Cans for Cancer is Madison’s effort to collect aluminum cans that she plans to bring to a local collection site for money and then donate the proceeds to help Jacob in his battle.
Madison and her mom, Amy, decorated a yellow wagon with flowers, photos of Jacob and Cans for Cancer information. They plan to walk in Saturday’s 34th annual Kiwanis Ahwatukee Easter Parade, accepting aluminum cans for their drive.
Madison also frequently bakes cookies and brings movies to Jacob’s house.
The former athlete now needs crutches to walk next-door to Madison’s house.
In January, Jacob was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, the most common form of bone caner, which is often found in teens and young adults. Jacob’s cancer is in his knee.
Soon after Madison heard of Jacob’s sickness, she told her mom she wanted to do something to help him.
Ahwatukee Preschool was planning to theme its parade float “recyclables.”
“She came up to me and said, ‘Mom, don’t you get money for turning in cans?’” Amy said.
From there, Amy and Madison designed a flier to distribute throughout the family-oriented neighborhood that Craig, Madison’s dad, calls, “the world’s biggest cul-de-sac.”
Since then, neighbors have told other families and friends about Cans for Cancer, and Madison has collected cans and cash donations.
Her school agreed to host a collection box throughout April. Donations can be dropped off anytime during school hours. The school is located inside Mountain View Lutheran Church, 11002 S. 48th St.
One neighbor donated the rims from his vehicle, which the Shorts plan to sell and contribute the proceeds to Cans for Cancer.
Jacob has a large support group of family and friends, whom he updates regularly via his personal Web site, www.caringbridge.com/visit/jacobvalencia. CaringBridge is a non-profit organization that allows those battling cancer or other serious health issues to create a personalized Web site. On each site, patients can upload pictures, write journal entries on their progress, and read messages that visitors leave in an online guest book.
Jacob started chemotherapy three days after his diagnosis. When he began to lose his hair, several male family members decided to shave their heads during a family Super Bowl party to support him.
Madison wanted to do the same, but her mom said no.
Another neighborhood friend shaved his head and vowed he wouldn’t let it grow back until Jacob could do the same.
Frequent doctor visits combined with sometimes low blood cell counts have kept the Mountain Pointe High School sophomore from attending school. A teacher from a Tempe school district comes to Jacob’s house “about twice a week” for home school, depending on Jacob’s strength and doctor appointment schedule, his mom, Rebecca, said.
Doctors at Phoenix Children’s Hospital plan to remove Jacob’s tumor during an April 7 surgery. After that, he could have about 15 rounds or seven months of chemotherapy left, depending on what happens during the surgery. He has already gone through six rounds of chemotherapy.
Jacob is sometimes prevented from seeing visitors and going out to eat with his family because low blood cell counts means he could be less able to fight off other illnesses than he could before cancer, his dad, Mike, said.
“Every time I get chemo, it takes longer to get back up,” Jacob said.
He will likely need a blood transfusion during his surgery. His parents asked doctors if they could donate blood to Jacob, but were told that would slow down the process at this point.
Taking a proactive role during countless doctor visits, Jacob is assertive and asks many questions about his cancer and action plan, Rebecca said.
At home, the Valencia family of three has changed their household eating habits to a more organic, “juiced-up” diet, so that Jacob doesn’t lose too much weight.
“It changes your life. It doesn’t hurt anyway to know what you’re putting in your body,” Mike said.
“I’m not sure why we were chosen for this little journey,” Rebecca said. “But it’s got to be something through God working.”
Kathleen Gormley is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University.