He did the magic trick for his mom. He did the magic trick for his oncologist.
He did the magic trick for his healthy siblings and a sick boy and his family.
With Children's Hospital & Medical Center as his stage, a boy with a dollar bill and two paper clips made the impossible possible.
Because at this moment, Cole Jacks wasn't a 13-year-old with cancer and a limp and a cane.
Cole Jacks was a magician.
He took the dollar, folded it into thirds, placed a paper clip at each end and ...
Snap! went the folded bill as Cole pulled the corners to straighten it. Pop! went a pair of mysteriously conjoined paper clips flying through the air.
“Very nice!” said Dr. Stefanie Lowas, who met the family a year ago, on the day they found a mass in Cole's left leg. “Very good!”
If only cancer treatment could be like magic. A sleight of hand. Some magic words. And Alakazam, the cancer disappears.
But as Cole and families like his know all too well, there's nothing “magical” about childhood cancer. The medicine works or it doesn't, or it does both in a case of the cure being worse than the disease.
The only similarity between magic and cancer is the requirement that you suspend reality. That life as you once knew it, with its normal chaos before a diagnosis, is now forever changed.
Life with cancer now is ports and blood counts and pills that make you puke and fevers that can be life-threatening.
To help families through the new reality, Children's Hospital & Medical Center provides a support group called Candlelighters. It meets monthly at the hospital for families of children across a cancer spectrum. Children could be newly diagnosed, in treatment or in remission. Parents could be newly in shock, angry or past the worst of it. Siblings, who also suffer, are welcome.
The meetings go like this: something fun for the kids downstairs, something serious for the adults upstairs.
Tonight it was pizza, pop and illusionist Kevin Spencer downstairs. It was medical social worker June McAtee and straight-talking Dr. Lowas upstairs.
Downstairs, the children shrieked with delight at the dollar trick. Upstairs, their parents sat stone-faced, hearing about survival percentages and thermometer readings.
When you have cancer, even a slight fever of 100.4 degrees or higher matters, Dr. Lowas told them. That's when you call the doctor.
“If you don't remember anything else,” she said, “that's the ONE thing.”
Annette Jacks knows how dangerous a fever can be.
She remembers the time Cole was so feverish that he hallucinated for 24 hours. She remembers giving him shots in his leg to reduce the chance of fever, help him stave off infection.
“You put the numbing cream on, wait the 45 minutes,” she had told me in the lobby earlier, her eyes filling with tears. Then give him the shot.
“He'd hold onto my hand with one hand really tight.”
Before cancer diagnosis, Cole was a busy Millard sixth-grader, the fourth of Annette's six children.
Before, Cole was a Boy Scout who had made his mother a cutting board for Mother's Day.
Before, Cole was like any kid complaining of a leg ache, limping.
Annette took him to the doctor April 23, 2012. Maybe it's a sore muscle, maybe he tweaked it. Give him some ibuprofen and some time, she was told. If he still complains, bring him back.
A couple of weeks later, Cole was lying on the floor and couldn't lift his leg. Annette felt that something was wrong and took him back in on May 11. The doctor ordered X-rays at Children's Hospital. Annette and Cole returned May 12, the day before Mother's Day. What happened next was all very fast.
A nurse handing over a phone with a doctor on the end, apologizing, telling Annette there was a mass. Dr. Lowas, who happened to be there that day, talking to Annette about what it could be — bone cancer — and how to prepare Cole for the news.
Three days later, a biopsy confirmed the osteosarcoma, and chemotherapy started.
Cole had to miss the last three weeks of sixth grade at Andersen Middle School. In August, a surgeon removed part of his left leg and implanted a prosthetic device that must be surgically adjusted as he grows.
Life, which was happily hectic in the before, was crazy in the after. Annette's oldest child, a married daughter living in Montana, had a baby. Her second-oldest went to college.
That left four at home who needed care as Annette juggled her job at an insurance firm and Cole's treatment and education — a visiting tutor got him through most of seventh grade.
Sometimes Annette had to hire an overnight baby sitter because there was no one else to stay with her three other children at home while she was in the hospital with Cole. Sometimes she'd burst into tears while driving in her car.
Cole had his last — last for now, because Dr. Lowas says in cancer you can't ever say things definitively — chemotherapy treatment in February. He eased back into seventh grade, going half-days in mid-March. On Thursday, he went to Children's for a blood draw and an echocardiogram. Chemotherapy can be very hard on the heart.
On Friday he'll undergo surgery on his left leg to lengthen the prosthetic. He has grown, and his right leg is an inch longer.
The family is still grappling with the questions. Younger brother Blake, age 9, asks his mom if he's going to get cancer.
“They've had some rough patches,” Annette said. The other kids at home are daughters Skylar, age 16, and Lillian, age 6.
Things are looking up, though.
At the hospital Thursday, the family seemed relaxed. Annette, wearing her “cancer sucks” bracelet, headed upstairs to hear Dr. Lowas. Cole and his three siblings stayed downstairs to hear magician Spencer.
Spencer believes that magic can be therapeutic, especially with sick children, because tricks give them something in their lives they can control. Magic piques their curiosity, and once they learn a trick, they are eager to show it off.
After the event, as families streamed out of the hospital, Cole stopped. He put down his cane, beamed at his “audience” and showed us what magic really looks like.
“It was cool to see him be a kid,” Annette said, “seeing how excited he was to show someone something he can do now, something new.”
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