The force has been strong with Jedi Jack Welch in his two-year fight against leukemia. The name comes from his love of the popular film franchise, and his family and friends have used the little Jedi’s love of all things “Star Wars” to rally around him in his fight against cancer.
Jack, a 6-year-old from Chandler, was the honorary race starter at the Run to Fight Children’s Cancer on March 8 at Grand Canyon University. The money raised went to Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Children’s Cancer Network to help families of children with cancer.
“Any kid or any family that deals with cancer is an amazing family and everybody deals with it differently,” said Jack’s mom, Beth. “It’s great to bring more awareness to children’s cancer research.”
Jack was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 4. His mother noticed he had been very tired, wasn’t eating well, and was bruising easily when she took him to the doctor. She thought he had an ear infection or mononucleosis, something common that’s easily treatable.
“I like to say it was mother’s intuition,” Beth said. “He was just off. He was kind of lethargic and fussy, and he had normally been a really happy, easygoing 4-year-old boy.”
The diagnosis started a whirlwind of treatment, including 10 rounds of cranial radiation and countless rounds of IV chemotherapy and spinal taps.
“We would never in a million years have expected that (Jack had leukemia),” Beth said. “That’s someone else’s kid, not my kid. We don’t get cancer.”
Beth said it wasn’t easy for Jack to understand his situation. The family opted to explain what was happening by relating his circumstance to the “Star Wars” universe. “You are Luke Skywalker,” Beth tells him. “You are fighting Darth Vader, and the chemo is going to kill the bad cells.”
After more than two difficult years of treatment, Jack is in the maintenance phase of treatment that requires him to take daily chemo in pill form, receive IV chemo once a month and a have a spinal tap every three months. This treatment will continue until January 2015.
“I mean you name it, he got it, but his path really wasn’t as bad as a lot of the other people,” Beth said.
In addition to his love of “Star Wars,” Jack is a new Tiger Scout and an athlete. He just wrapped up his basketball season as his team’s top scorer and is ready to start playing baseball again.
While Jack’s fight with leukemia has been difficult, his cancer fight has become an inspiration for friends, family and strangers.
“(Jack’s leukemia) has affected us in pretty much every way possible. It’s also affected every single person we know, and actually a lot of people we don’t know,” Beth said.
One of the biggest things the Welch family has learned is how to accept help, Beth said. In the first few months when Jack was in the hospital, neighbors and friends did the family’s laundry, cleaned the house, mowed the lawn and brought the family meals for six months. As Beth phrased it, the family was the one offering help, “and now there are times when I literally just cannot do it by myself.”
The family has formed a team, “Jack Strikes Back,” that was originally used when family members and friends participated in cancer awareness events. “Jack Strikes Back” has since evolved into a battle cry for Jack and his family in his fight against leukemia.
All of the support from friends and beyond has given Beth and her family a new hope for their son’s future.
“We have a renewed faith in the world because people are good and people want to help,” she said.
• Shelby Slade is a sophomore at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is an intern with the Tribune this semester. Reach her at email@example.com.