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Kayleen Jurski was preparing for her final season of softball and getting ready for her last semester at Perrysburg High School when a doctor told her, “It’s cancer.”
The 18-year-old’s parents began thinking the worst.
“She kept us grounded,” her father, Ron Jurski, said. “She listened to the doctor, understood the process, and is moving on.”
What Kayleen heard on Feb. 3 was that she had lung cancer. Last week it was revealed it is an extremely rare cancer called an inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor, or IMT. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic are planning for a surgery in early March to remove the tumor.
It is curable, according to Dr. Nathan Pennell, a staff physician in the department of solid tumor oncology at the Cleveland Clinic. He said lung cancer is “incredibly” rare for teenagers, and patients with lung cancer have an average age of 70. IMT shows up in less than one percent of lung cancers, but is more common for those under 40, like Kayleen.
Kayleen will need two doctors during the surgery, one removing the cancer while another deflates her lung and uses an artificial lung during the surgery.
“It was scary listening to all of that,” Mr. Jurski said. “But the doctor didn’t pull any punches, he told her ‘it’ll be a pain in the [butt], it is in a tough spot, but you’ll do fine.’ ”
The rarity lets Kayleen help doctors research a tumor they hardly ever see.
“Because it is so rare, it is critically important that the patient is willing to help us do research on it,” Dr. Pennell said.
But Mr. Jurski was initially skeptical.
“I stepped back and started seeing that little girl that was 4 years old who wouldn’t take her medicine,” he thought, while Kayleen stood up and said she wanted to help researchers.
“Her mom and I looked at each other and knew we did something right raising her,” Mr. Jurski said.
Kayleen, who is planning on attending Bowling Green State University to study childhood education, was relieved surgery should prevent the need for chemotherapy.
“My body can help other kids in the future. It is one of the coolest things,” Kayleen said. “Of course, it is scary, but there is no time to freak out.”
In October, Kayleen was working hard during fall workouts and getting her softball coach, Ryan DeMars, excited about her third year on varsity.
October was also when she began coughing up blood. After a series of misdiagnoses, she had bronchoscopy, which looked into her lungs. Doctors ultimately told her to visit the Cleveland Clinic specialist.
“It took away my senior season, and that hit me the worst,” Kayleen said. “The hardest thing was telling my coach I can never play again. I couldn’t handle being there when he told the girls — they were the first to know.”
Her surgery will have her out of school for six to eight weeks and has put softball out of the question.
Since then, an outpouring of support has “humbled” the Jurski family. Kayleen said the power of social media has been “unreal,” with so many people showing their support. Coach DeMars said the team won’t wear her No. 15 uniform. He also said players have asked that she remain a captain.
Both Kayleen and Mr. DeMars are excited for when she feels healthy enough to come to games, but agreed it would be a tough.
She still plans to graduate with her class in June. Home tutors and her teachers are helping to make sure it happens.
Today Kayleen rides for two hours to the Cleveland Clinic. She will be scanned to see if the cancer has spread anywhere else. Dr. Pennell, though, said it was unlikely.
“We’re blessed we found it early,” Mr. Jurski said. “God works in mysterious ways. It may take a while to understand the positives that come from this.”