Ex-foot­ball player tack­ling can­cer

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Ted CLARKE Cit­i­zen staff tclarke@pgc­i­t­i­zen.ca

Last fall, af­ter bat­tling a rare from of can­cer for three years, Jake McLeod found a cou­ple of dis­trac­tions that took his mind off the dis­ease. One of them was foot­ball. Play­ing on both sides of the field as a six-foot-three, 230-pound de­fen­sive line­man/of­fen­sive line­man, he capped his se­nior year at Duchess Park sec­ondary school with an un­de­feated sea­son and a P.G. Bowl cham­pi­onship. The Con­dors were the in­au­gu­ral win­ners of Matt Pearce Memo­rial Tro­phy, named af­ter their head coach who died sud­denly of a heart con­di­tion in Jan­uary 2016.

In late-Septem­ber, about a month be­fore the Con­dors went on to rep­re­sent the North in the pro­vin­cial high school play­offs, Jake and his fa­ther Dan, mother Car­rie, and older brother Matthew took off on a cruise to Hawaii.

They were se­lected for the trip af­ter Jake’s name was sub­mit­ted to the Chil­dren’s Wish Foun­da­tion by med­i­cal staff at B.C. Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal.

They had a great time to­gether and the hol­i­day came at just the right time, af­ter so many trips back and forth to hos­pi­tals in Prince Ge­orge and Van­cou­ver for pro­ce­dures to save his leg from am­pu­ta­tion.

But on Dec. 15, the pain re­turned and the McLeods got the news they all feared. Jake’s tu­mours had grown back in sev­eral places in his right leg from the knee down and he re­quired im­me­di­ate surgery to re­move them.

“Sure it was a shock but it was just some­thing I knew was go­ing to hap­pen,” said Jake, 17. “It was a lit­tle bit of a let­down but I fully ex­pected it.

“It’s a roller-coaster ride, you don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen. One mo­ment life’s go­ing fine, the next mo­ment you need to go to Van­cou­ver – some­thing’s wrong with you.”

His doc­tors had warned him of that like­li­hood when they di­ag­nosed his con­di­tion, known as soft-tis­sue sar­coma (fi­bro­mato­sis), an ag­gres­sive form of can­cer which af­fects just one or two out of every mil­lion peo­ple in the world. Con­sid­er­ing his age and the lo­ca­tion of the can­cer, the av­er­age time for his tu­mours to grow back fol­low­ing surgery is just three months.

Jake joined the Con­dors ju­nior team in Grade 9 and in his four sea­sons play­ing foot­ball the team dealt with more than its share of tragedies. Four of the play­ers lost their moth­ers – three to can­cer and one be­cause of a heart at­tack – while Pearce’s death left Con­dors run­ning back/safety Col­burn Pearce with­out a fa­ther.

“These boys are re­ally good friends, they’ve been to more than one fu­neral for each other’s par­ents and they’re like fam­ily,” said Car­rie McLeod. “If he could play, they would find a way to let him play. You can’t ask for a bet­ter sup­port net­work if you’re teenager fight­ing a re­ally rare bat­tle.”

Jake, who turns 18 on Oct. 31, grad­u­ated in June from Duchess Park and now at­tends the Col­lege of New Cale­do­nia, study­ing com­puter net­work elec­tronic tech­nol­ogy. He works part-time at Star­bucks in Col­lege Heights and vol­un­teers for the Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety as part of Team Diller at the an­nual Run For the Cure in May and also helps out at the Inside Ride to Con­quer Can­cer in Oc­to­ber.

“If I’m still alive and can do things I’m go­ing to do that un­til I can’t any­more, I’ll still try to do what I can,” he said. “I know (losing his leg) is an in­evitabil­ity but I can’t be put down by that, I still have to keep mov­ing for­ward.”

Jake first com­plained about leg pain and the fact his pant leg was get­ting tighter when he was 14. He was di­ag­nosed in 2014 and was given 50 bouts of low-dose chemo­ther­apy. At 15, he had 28 ra­di­a­tion treat­ments but the tu­mours con­tin­ued to grow. Nearly un­able to walk due to swelling, with the tu­mours block­ing the flow of blood in his leg, he had his first surgery when he was 16, need­ing 87 sta­bles to close the wounds, but it didn’t stop the can­cer from re­turn­ing. The largest tu­mour he now has runs from his calf to mid-thigh and is 30 cen­time­tres long and 10 cm in di­am­e­ter.

“These tu­mours get very an­gry when you touch them and the minute you do a surgery or biopsy they get an­gry and grow a lot of times,” said Car­rie. “But they’re so rare, there’s no tra­di­tional clin­i­cal tri­als be­cause peo­ple aren’t re­spond­ing the same way.

“Un­for­tu­nately it’s in­cur­able right now and we have no way to get them to stop at this point, so he’s one of the very few kids to have per­son­al­ized oncoge­nomics (POG) treat­ment, which is tar­geted gene ther­apy.”

POG has proven ef­fec­tive in fight­ing some types of ag­gres­sive can­cer. Jake just re­turned from Van­cou­ver, where he was given cryoab­la­tion treat­ment, in which a su­per-cooled gas is in­jected into the tu­mours. He’ll have that every three months.

“We’re try­ing to avoid am­pu­ta­tion be­cause even if we am­pu­tate, another tu­mour will come back for him,” said Car­rie. “Fi­brob­lasts, which are how some of these tu­mours re­act, are like scar tis­sue for us and it heals. But in his case it keeps com­ing back and cre­at­ing new tu­mours.”

Jake is the only mi­nor un­der the care of the B.C. Can­cer Cen­tre of the North at UHNBC and un­for­tu­nately for him, an MRI exam nine months in March 2016 failed to de­tect the tu­mour that showed up last De­cem­ber. Rather than ex­press anger that it wasn’t di­ag­nosed ear­lier, Car­rie said he gave his doc­tor a hug and told her,” You’re just the mes­sen­ger, you didn’t give me my can­cer.”

Jake has had his mo­ments of de­pres­sion and anger deal­ing with his life-threat­en­ing con­di­tion but says there’s no point in dwelling on the neg­a­tives and mop­ing about what’s hap­pened to him.

“I just keep mov­ing for­ward be­cause I know I have to, there’s go­ing to be no end to this and there’s no point in stop­ping,” he said. “You know you have more treat­ments ahead of you and it’s go­ing to get worse and you have to stay strong and keep telling your­self that this can’t beat you, you’re bet­ter than this.”

This week­end the North­land Dodge Prince Ge­orge Se­nior Base­ball League is or­ga­niz­ing two fundrais­ing events at Cit­i­zen Field for Jake to help him and his fam­ily pay their travel ex­penses while he’s re­ceiv­ing med­i­cal treat­ments in Van­cou­ver. Many of those costs are not cov­ered be­cause he’s treated at Van­cou­ver Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal rather than at B.C. Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal.

The league’s home run derby starts at 7 p.m. tonight at Cit­i­zen Field and the all-star game is on Sun­day at 2 p.m. Jake hasn’t played much base­ball in his life but says he’ll prob­a­bly take a few swings to try to clear the fence tonight. Ad­mis­sion is by do­na­tion. There will be a silent auc­tion at the ball­park.

“It’s re­ally ex­cit­ing to see peo­ple get­ting to­gether like that to do fundrais­ing and ev­ery­thing,” said Jake.

“A lot of things aren’t cov­ered just be­cause there isn’t a lot of fund­ing for kids my age. Right now I don’t think I’d be able to ev­ery­thing on my own.”

CIT­I­ZEN PHOTO BY BRENT BRAATEN

Jake McLeod, left, gath­ers at home plate at Cit­i­zen Field with his mother Car­rie and Paul Wil­son of the North­land Dodge Prince Ge­orge Se­nior Base­ball League. The league is do­nat­ing all pro­ceeds from its home-run derby tonight and from Sun­day’s all-star game to the McLeod fam­ily to help cover their travel ex­penses while Jake is re­ceiv­ing his can­cer treat­ments in Van­cou­ver.

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