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Kids Day: Blindsided by son’s cancer diagnosis

Jill Bojarski always looked forward to Kids Day. Every year, the fourth-grade teacher would buy five copies of the special edition newspaper and teach her pupils at Pembroke Central Schools one very important lesson.

“Their assignment was to pull out the what, who, when, where, why and how,” said Bojarski. “I actually utilized the articles as a language-arts lesson in my classes.”

More importantly, she explained, her pupils learned about courage and love and the strength it takes for a young child to live with a critical illness.

“To be on the flip side now is surreal,” Bojarski said, sitting at the hospital bed of her young son, Jackson Bojarski.

One year ago, Jackson, 5, was diagnosed with brain cancer after he developed explosive bouts of vomiting. At first, doctors were stumped, Bojarski recalled, until a CT scan discovered a tumor in the cerebellum adhered to the brain stem.

“We were totally blindsided,” Bojarski recalled. “There had been no other signs. No headaches, no double vision. No stumbling. The six-hour tumor resection surgery was May 15, 2012 – a Tuesday. It will forever be framed in my mind.”

A 32-treatment regimen of radiation kicked off the summer of 2012 for the West Seneca family that also includes Jackson’s sister, Ellie, 3, and father, Tom, an installation design manager for Aqua Systems of Western New York.

“The pediatric tumor that Jackson has is an aggressive tumor that can spread not so much in the body, but up and down the brain and spine fairly easily,” said Dr. Lorna Fitzpatrick, Jackson’s hematologist and oncologist at Women & Children’s Hospital. “It tends to present quickly and cause symptoms pretty quickly because it’s so aggressive. But it tends to respond well to chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.”

Last September, chemotherapy started.

“We don’t say the word cancer in our house,” Bojarski said. “We have this challenge that we’re getting through. Jackson knows he’s sick and that he can’t do the things he did before. He bounced back to talk again, but instead of walking, he ‘scooches’ on his butt.”

Throughout it all, Jackson has kept the sparkle in his eyes, according to his caregivers.

“We turn their world upside down and we expect them to be normal,” said Sister Brenda Whelan, the hospital’s director for pastoral care. “He’s got such a strong spirit. Last week he was eating pancakes, and I was teasing him into eating, trying to get him to eat as much as possible. I gave him some colored pencils. He fell asleep holding onto them.”

Jackson is halfway through his chemotherapy and often loses his desire to eat, said his mother. For that reason, a feeding tube was surgically implanted – one of five surgeries so far – so Jackson can have the strength necessary for recovery.

“He just has this peace and gentleness about him that’s unbelievable,” said Fitzpatrick. “His parents, I think it comes from them. They’re just a peaceful family and it radiates right down to him. Everything revolves around getting him better. There’s an aura about him, and no, every kid’s not like that.”

Pushing Jackson and his family to the finish line is next year’s trip to Cars Land at Disney California Adventure theme park. The trip, sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, is specifically tailored for Jackson, who is a huge “Cars” fan.

“Our ultimate goal is that he will be able to walk by then,” said Bojarski. “We’ll be finished with treatment in August, so we’re hoping to travel at spring break next year. That’s our light, something amazing to do to celebrate.”