Jake Maguire was just three days away from his sixth birthday when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Encouraged by his father, a gym teacher, the young Maguire was already in love with sports, especially baseball. Now 23 and over a decade out of treatment, that love is still strong, and Maguire is looking forward to a future as a physical education instructor and coach himself.
As a kid, Maguire’s parents took him for a blood test at Boston Children’s Hospital after he struggled with multiple infections. The family was quickly set up at Dana-Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic and Maguire began chemotherapy, a period that he only has a hazy memory of.
“I knew I was sick,” he says. “But I was so young I didn’t really understand what was going on.”
That first round of chemotherapy went well, but nine months later, Maguire began having headaches and seeing double. It was difficult to process these symptoms as a child and he didn’t tell his parents about them for a while.
“I was just on the road one day and asked my parents, ‘Are there two cars in front of us right now?’” He remembers. “That’s when they realized we had to go back.”
It was found that his ALL had recurred, and Maguire had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation to the brain. The active kid who was looking forward to a Little League season suddenly found he had way less energy, and he faced neurotoxicity, a blood clot, and renal failure caused by the aggressive treatment.
But throughout all this, the Dana-Farber Jimmy Fund providers and care team were there to shepherd Maguire and his family through this difficult moment. And Maguire says that, despite these challenges, the memories that are clearest to him are the most joyous. Like when a volunteer had a Nerf gun shootout with him, or the many visits to the Resource Room where he played games and did puzzles.
His advice for parents is to try and focus on the good times.
“I know it’s a stressful time,” he says. “I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for my parents. I don’t even remember a lot of the negative things, though, I remember the happy times.”
Life as a young survivor
By 2011, Maguire’s cancer was in remission. He had missed a good portion of third and fourth grade which meant that he missed classes about fundamental mathematics and things like writing in cursive. Radiation to the brain of a developing mind can have a big impact on how it processes information. Some survivors who received radiation to the brain as a child aren’t able to live independently as adults.
Maguire also has to keep an eye on long-term effects of treatment including cardiac risks and concerns over bone density associated with steroid treatment. But he hasn’t let any of this hold him back. In 2024, he’ll complete his master’s in physical education, and he hopes to find a job as a gym teacher somewhere in New England, where he was born and raised. Living with friends in Providence, Maguire spends his free time playing recreational flag football, works out at the gym, and goes for hikes.
To help manage and observe his health, pediatric survivorship nurse practitioner Jill Brace O’Neill, MS, RN-CS, PNP, still sees Maguire regularly. Those appointments are a comfort to him.
“Our patients and their families have weathered a storm,” says Brace O’Neill. “At Dana-Farber, we want them to know that they are not alone afterwards, and we are here to guide them as survivors.”
With her expertise in pediatric oncology survivorship, Brace O’Neill has monitored Maguire for the last eight years in a way that a standard primary care physician — who doesn’t have knowledge of the effects cancer treatment — couldn’t. She hopes to empower her patients with education and security. “Jake’s case is so inspiring,” she says. “To see him living on his own and how far he has come reminds me of why I became an oncology provider.”
And for Maguire, the visits are a comfort.
“It’s reassuring to know that Jill and Dana-Farber have my back,” he says.