AJ McKenzie, a fourth grade student at St. Kateri Catholic Academy, had just one thing to say about a doctor’s appointment he had this past year: “It was awesome!”
That’s because, for the first time since 2011, AJ found out he was completely cancer free. After being diagnosed with Burkett’s Lymphoma, AJ endured nine months of chemotherapy, spent countless days in the hospital and had routine blood work done to ensure his cancer had not returned. Now, AJ’s doctors finally said his cancer was in complete remission.
But for AJ, the best part is being able to be a kid again. It was something he missed out on when he was going through treatment. Even when he was able to go home, he wasn’t able to have much fun.
“I had to stay cooped up in my house, could not go outside, couldn’t see my friends at the time,” said AJ. “They would just stick me (with needles) all the time.”
AJ’s battle with cancer began in 2011 when his father, Jack, noticed a lump on the side of AJ’s neck. Doctors originally said the lump was nothing major, and thought they could get it to go away with steroids and antibiotics. But when the lump reappeared, tests revealed that AJ had cancer.
“Our hearts just sank,” said Jack. “Our son has cancer now and that’s the last thing a parent wants to hear.”
Shortly after that, AJ started treatments at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo. Before long, the chemotherapy began taking a toll on AJ and he began losing his hair and was unable to attend class due to a weakened immune system. But he was still able to check in with his classmates thanks to the iPad program at St. Kateri Catholic Schools.
Using an iPad, AJ would remotely attend class from the hospital. Mrs. Modrowski, his teacher at the time, would set an iPad up in her classroom so the students and AJ could interact while AJ was in the hospital.
In addition, AJ received support other grades too. The senior class made him a blanket out of bandanas, while his classmates in Ms. Modrowski’s class made him a fleece blanket.
“Being here at Kateri was great,” said Jack. “The teacher he had (Ms. Modrowski) was wonderful.”
Since finishing his chemotherapy, AJ has returned to class and taken on some additional tasks as well. He has been a guest speaker for Make a Wish in the Toledo area. The foundation gave AJ gifts during his battle with cancer.
While there is still a chance the cancer may return, Jack is optimistic about what the future holds for his son
“We’re not done with the journey yet, but hopefully this is the last we have seen of it.”
(— from St. Kateri Catholic Schools)