Living Life

By Jack Coates

In May 2001, I was diagnosed with medulloblastoma. I was 19 years old and had just finished my freshman year at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island.

Medulloblastoma is a cancer that affects the brain and the spine. I had three surgeries, 52 weeks of chemo, and six weeks of radiation. I spent a year and two months in the hospital and went from 217 pounds to 97. I was scared. I was asking God: “Why?  Why did it have to happen to me?” It was shocking. Many things went through my mind.

Jack and his sister, Kelly
Jack and his sister, Kelly

While I was sick, my family helped in my recovery. My mom fed me and took me to appointments; my dad lifted my spirits; and my older brother, Steven, visited and chipped in. When I moved home from the hospital, I shared a room with my sister, Kelly, who always pushed me to get better.

After two years of treatment, I went into remission. My family began doing the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. As I gained strength, I joined them.

Then, in 2011, I was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, which means the bone marrow does not make enough healthy blood cells. In February 2012, I had a bone marrow transplant.

A week or two before my transplant, they started their search for a donor. I’m not always a lucky guy, but within a few days I found out that they found a donor – my sister. Some people have to wait years to find a donor; I found one in a week.

In 2011, Kelly completed her first Boston Marathon. She wore a ribbon on her jersey with my name on it. She’ll run again this year as part of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team.

Jack and his fiancee, Mary
Jack and his fiancé, Mary

On March 7, I had my yearly MRI. Everything was clear, and I am now 14 years in remission. Currently, I am doing physical therapy and occupational therapy at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital to get stronger.

I’m extremely lucky. If it were not for Kelly, I wouldn’t be here right now. I don’t think there is anything I could do to thank my sister enough for saving my life, except to start living life. Before my transplant, I was working at the West Suburban YMCA in Newton. Recently, I went back for the first time to visit, and I will be going back to work within the next few weeks. I have a fiancée, Mary. We got engaged the Christmas Eve before my transplant. Turns out, luck may be on my side.

Read more about Jack: Survivors of pediatric brain tumors share a special bond 

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