On Jan. 2, after spending a week in the hospital, 10-year-old Jack Klinge was surprised by a flash mob on the front lawn of his family’s Lake Forest home.
“My friends were out there, chanting my name. They spelled out ‘Get Well Soon Jack,’ ” he said. “It made me cry when I saw the flash mob. It made our closeness a lot more obvious.”
The Klinge family has lived in Lake Forest for four years after relocating from Los Angeles and Connecticut. John Klinge is a partner at KPMG LLC while his wife, Mary Lynne, is a full-time mom to Cassie, Jack and Will.
Jack, a fifth-grader at Deer Path Middle School, is a sports fan, and loves playing baseball, soccer and hockey. On Dec. 18, a collision in a hockey game landed Jack in the emergency room with a broken collarbone.
The family traveled to Connecticut for the holiday, but in less than a week, on Christmas Eve, Jack returned to the emergency room in Bridgeport, Conn., with bad blood levels.
He was transferred to Yale Children’s Hospital, and on Christmas Day, diagnosed with leukemia. He began treatment Dec. 27 after taking a Med Jet to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
“It’s hard to see your little brother like that,” said Cassie, 16. “You’re used to see him running around, laughing and joking. It’s hard to see him in a hospital, all full of tubes.”
Jack spent much of January in the hospital. On Jan. 10, he began having seizures due to methotrexate, the most effective drug for treating acute lymphoblastic leukemia. On Jan. 15, another round of seizures began and Jack was put in the intensive care unit for eight days.
In the hospital, Jack spent time listening to music, a pastime he shares with his sister. “Cassie calms me down and helps me out a lot,” he said. His favorite song is Finally Moving by Pretty Lights.
“When I woke up (in the hospital), it sucked a lot. A lot of pain … I had to go from the hospital to the car, from the car to the house,” said Jack, clearly remembering each moment as excruciating.
Jack has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common leukemia in children. Lymphoblastic leukemia occurs when white blood cells overproduce in the bone marrow and crowd out healthy cells, eventually spreading to organs. Luckily for Jack, the overall survival rate for children is 80 percent, according to the National Marrow Donor Program.
“They tell you that your child has cancer but has a good one,” said Mary Lynne, Jack’s mom.
Monday, Jack starts the final phase of treatment. He will undergo three more years of treatment, ending just before he starts high school.
During his treatment, Jack is not able to play sports as he used to, but he sits on the sidelines during his team’s games. He also plays golf. “It’s a fun, relaxed sport. You can take as much time as you want,” he said.
He’s excited to be able to swim this summer after a port (for medicine) is put into his chest near the collarbone, which is less prone to infection than the catheter he has attached to his left arm.
“My friends have really been there (for me); they understand that we can’t do everything we used to do, like playing basketball outside. They’re creative and come up with other things to do,” Jack said.
“Back in January, I was trying to think of something to do with friends and family to celebrate Jack and cheer him on,” said Cassie. More than 60 people showed up for Jack.
“It was truly an inspiration to be there,” said Mary Lynne.
Through it all, the family has tried to stay positive. “I think Jack is an awesome brother. He’s a tough kid and he can beat anything,” said Will, 9.
“When one person has cancer, the whole family has cancer,” said John, Jack’s father. “It takes the whole family to work things out.”
He added the doctors and nurses at Children’s Memorial have been fabulous.
Lastly, John thanked his son. “Jack has his down days. If he didn’t have the positive attitude he has, it would make things a lot more difficult. Bad things happen to people who can handle it.”
Jack is a well-spoken, funny kid, an “all-American boy” as his mother puts it. More than anything, his awareness and thankfulness for the love around him glows from him like the bright blonde fuzz of his hair growing back.
“My whole family has been so awesome,” Jack said. “Some kids will say something like ‘I wish I had a different family,’ but my family is the best family ever. My mom has worked so hard to make me happy.”
Jack has a message for other children facing cancer.
“Cancer is difficult for everyone, but it is really tough on kids, when you can’t do the same things you used to be able to do," he said. "Never give up. As bad as it seems, you can always get back to the things you like to do. You’re a strong kid.”
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