Jake and decor

Our entire world changed on February 4th, 2005.

Jake at sixteen years old was experiencing flu like symptoms & running a high temperature.  The last week of January 2005 he paid a visit to the Doctor.  Jake had also been occasionally complaining about his leg bothering him so Curt & I told him to be sure and ask Dr. D’Angelo about it.  Jake had forgotten to ask so I called the office and asked if Jake could stop by after school. Dr. D’Angelo felt a lump on his right thigh so he suggested Jake get an MRI right away.

A few weeks later, Dr. D’Angelo told Curt & me that he felt that Jake wasn’t telling him something and was glad we called back. On Friday, February 4th the MRI results came back. Dr. D’Angelo requested Curt and I come to his office.

He said it could be a sarcoma.

Words cannot begin to describe the feeling we had. The thought of telling Jake was unbearable. We had to call Jake out of school and take him immediately to Dr. Rosenthal, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in reconstruction after bone cancer. I could hardly look at Jake as he walked towards us. When he saw us, he said: “this isn’t good that you are both here.”

The ride to Dr. Rosenthal’s office seemed to take forever. When we arrived, Dr. Rosenthal was pretty certain it was osteosarcoma. The results of a biopsy confirmed it; Jake had osteosarcoma. It was February 7th, 2005.

Later, we went to Children’s Mercy to see Dr. Amami, a pediatric oncologist. Jake started intense chemotherapy on February 14. The goal was to shrink and solidify the tumor before surgery and see the response to chemotherapy. Dr. Rosenthal replaced the upper 1/3 of Jake’s femur and his hip with titanium on May 5th. Jake finished chemo the week after Christmas 2005.

Jake graduated from Blue Springs High School in 2007 and started college at the University of Missouri that fall. He joined the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity—made lots of friends and enjoyed life to the fullest.

At the same time, Children’s Mercy had been watching a spot on Jake’s lung that had grown a tiny bit. He had a thoracotomy in June 2008—the nodule was cancer, but the surgeon felt that only the nodule was cancerous and that he had removed all of it. Jake went back to MU that fall and was doing well. Later, he had a CT scan in February, 2009 that showed a questionable nodule in his lungs. He had surgery in March 2009 to remove the nodule.

Results of tests showed the nodule was active cancer. Jake’s oncologist recommended we go to MD Anderson in Houston for their treatment recommendation. We made our first of many trips to Houston on April 6th, 2009.

Fast forward to November 25, 2010

Dr. Anderson e-mailed the results of Jake’s CT scan to Curt right before he and Ali came to visit Jake & I in Houston for Thanksgiving. Curt set up a meeting with Dr. Anderson (Jake’s oncologist at MD Anderson) and Laura (Jake’s Physician’s Assistant at MD). I didn't go to the meeting as I stayed with Jake & Ali. When Curt came back to the apartment where we had been staying for the last several months, he said that Dr. Anderson said there was nothing more they could do for Jake.

When Curt, Ali, and I told Jake that there was nothing more that could be done, he asked how long he had because there were some things he wanted to take care of.  Jake was ready to go home to Blue Springs and see his family and friends.  Thanks to Dr. Lewing (Jake’s oncologist at Children’s Mercy), Jill Anderson (Jake’s Nurse Practitioner at CM) and Julie Fournier (Jake’s nurse and good friend at CM) we were flown home by Children Mercy Medical Air Ambulance.  Jake’s surgeon at MD Anderson came in, after Jake had his pain pump put in on December 3rd and said “apparently I have to get this boy home tomorrow.” 

We got back home on December 4th and in the three weeks that Jake was home he spent his time wisely.  He truly lived while he was dying.  Every day he made count to the fullest.  During this time, he met with Dawn Butler (a family friend) and Father Don and was able to ask questions he had about Heaven and was very much at peace through their several conversations.  He spent lots of quality time with friends and family members and was able to say his goodbyes. 

During the three weeks that we were home, Jake had endless visitors.  He slept a lot, but his family and friends would stay out in our front room and wait for hours on end for him to wake. When Jake would wake, he would ask us who was all there and to tell them he would be out there soon to visit.  He appreciated all visitors and was pleasant in conversations even though he did not feel well.  He was still trying to soak up every minute of life with family and friends.   You would hear him say “thank you” multiple times to his visitors who loved him so much.  Jake was able to come out several times and join the group— stayed up until 4 and 5 AM. That was one of the things he really wanted to do; spend time having fun, listening to music, hanging out, laughing, enjoying time with friends and family.

On Tuesday, December 21st Jake woke up and said “we need to go to the hospital”.  We called our hospice nurse and she said we need to go the Hospice House.  At first Curt and I said “no we need to stay home”, but when we asked Jake he was adamant “we need to go today”.  He was right as usual.

Jake told us he loved us – he once again told us and the nurse’s thanks for taking care of him.  We kissed and hugged him lots and lots and told him how much we love him, how proud we are of him, how he is loved by so many and how he has touched so many people’s lives.  Jake passed away on Thursday, December 23, 2010 at the young age of 22 years old.  His last words were “Mom – are you OK?”

Father Don was the celebrant at Jake's funeral on December 29, 2010. Words cannot even come close to describing the ceremony Father Don blessed Jake with on that special day. He mentioned stories that we had told him years ago. It was very evident that Father Don and Jake had become very close friends over the years. We feel fortunate that Jake had made that special bond and found peace. Jake liked the song Hallelujah as sung by Rufus Wainwright—Fr. Don said in his homily “that Jake's life was, in some ways, spent composing his own Hallelujah, the chord that he struck pleased the Lord.”

We continued to celebrate Jake's life after Mass at the Elk's Lodge. His friends and family told stories for eight hours. We cried and laughed, cried and laughed, cried and laughed, danced, hugged and comforted each other. Paul (Curt’s brother) said it was the saddest, funniest day ever!! We would not have changed one thing about that day. His friends did not hold back on the stories they told—we were hearing a lot of them for the first time. Jake did a lot of living in his 22 years and touched more lives than we had ever known.

Throughout Jake’s six-year battle with cancer he had a hip replacement, blood transfusions, went through 19 rounds of intense chemotherapy during a 10 month period at age 16 – 17.  When the cancer reoccurred he went through several different treatment options including 2 trial drugs, had radiation, four thoracotomies, surgery for a pain block in his pancreas, and surgery for a pain pump. He missed out on many special events in high school and then in college, spent many nights in the hospital and only God knows the feelings he must have felt during those times. But throughout Jake’s six year battle with cancer he never complained, never asked “why me”, always had a smile and maintained a positive attitude.  He embraced life, made friends with young, middle-aged, and old people, never met a stranger, was always kind to those less fortunate, loved his family and friends wholeheartedly, and made us laugh and smile often – Jake packed a lot of living in his precious 22 years.  Looking back now at how he lived, we can see that he grabbed onto every minute with a zest for life.   Relationships were so very important to him.  He always worried about us and others and how his illness affected everyone around him.  He would always ask us if we were okay.  Jake had known for a long time that his chances were not good, but he was still up for the fight – he lived while he was dying.

Jake and I spent nine months in Houston on and off from April, 2009 until December 4, 2010 with Curt and Ali coming as often as they could. Curt was always there for visits after CT scans which was a big comfort to Jake. We as a family became very close. Curt amazed me with how he could stay so positive when he knew the prognosis. We never accepted that Jake was going to die. I’m convinced that worked best for Jake, Curt, Ali and me.   Ali and Jake became very close.  Ali took wonderful care of Jake. He would ask for something and she would jump up in the middle of the night. Ali and I slept in a single bed right next to Jake’s hospital bed at our house in his final weeks of life. We would take turns getting up with Jake during the last three weeks. Jake and I had a special bond— most mothers do not spend the amount of time together that we did over the past six years. I cherish every minute I was able to spend with Jake.  

Jake’s friends still stop by often.  We love spending time with them and hearing their stories about their life experiences with Jake.   They were a huge part of Jake’s life and gave us much love and comfort at the end of his life. We will always have a special bond with them and they will continue to be a huge part of our life, like family.

The hurt is greater than we could have ever imagined. We miss the way Jake always lit up the room, his sense of humor, his witty comments, his smile, his ability to always see the good in people, his empathy for others—we miss Jake more each & every day. 

As Jake Would Say, “Peace”,

The Cavanaughs



shamrock and peace sign
and Jake DID
Jake with Curt
Jake with Ali
Jake with Jane