As an Arcadia High School sophomore, Jack Guzman’s life was immersed in a kaleidoscope of rich and promising experiences. A member of the school’s basketball team, his life revolved around school, friends and extracurricular activities such as cross country running.
Last fall, Jack broke some ribs when a friend playfully jumped on him. His story should have ended with a routine emergency room visit. Unfortunately, the incident was a portent of something much more serious; something no one saw coming.
In December, Jack was diagnosed with leukemia, a blood and bone marrow cancer affecting mainly children and teens.
“Doctors recommended he be taken to Phoenix Children’s Hospital,” said Randy Guzman, Jack’s dad. “That’s when they discovered his blood pressure and hemoglobin were very low. The next day they told us he had leukemia.”
Jack’s mom passed away from cancer in 2015, so this diagnosis was particularly devastating. According to Randy, Jack’s “new normal” now consists of bi-weekly spinal taps, weekly chest drips and daily chemotherapy pills. To compound his medical merry-go-round, the chemo treatments have caused Jack to lose most of his hair.
To empathize with Jack, some of his basketball teammates decided to pay tribute to the power of brotherhood and solidarity by shaving off their hair.
“We did it to make him feel more comfortable about losing his hair, and let him know he’s not alone on this journey,” explained friend Owen Shaw. “He’s one of our teammates – now and forever.”
Julie Poplawski, the mother of Jack’s teammate James, was as enthusiastic about her son’s buzz cut as he was.
“At first I wondered what he was into, but as soon as I found out why he wanted to cut his hair, I couldn’t get the clippers out fast enough. There are so many negative stories about teens you hear in media,” Julie said. “It’s nice to know that some of our teenagers are just good kids trying to support each other.”
Randy said that the response from their immediate community has been overwhelming. Dinners and gift certificates from friends and neighbors came flooding in, and a good friend of the family in New York City began a GoFundMe page to cover Jack’s medical bills.
Despite the battery of medical treatments and having to be home-schooled now, Jack remains very positive, according to his dad. “He was scared and upset at first, but he is a good kid who is strong and kind.”
Jack’s basketball coach, Stephen Danford, reflected on his relationship with Jack as a player:
“He has been an inspiration to all of us. Kids sometimes feel things are worse than they are, and Jack’s illness puts things in perspective. Jack is one of the happiest kids – easygoing, a hard worker, and excited about everything. This whole incident really brought home how fortunate kids are to be happy and healthy.”
For more: gofundme.com/f/1uemkar8yo.