A special party was held Friday night at Dave & Buster’s in Omaha.
A group of teenagers sat alongside a table laughing and joking around with the guest of honor, his parents nearby.
Most going-away parties don’t involve the media, but this wasn’t any going-away party and its celebrant, Nolan Zikas — Zeke to his friends — isn’t like most young adults.
The Papillion teenager and his family have endured a lot in the past year since he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer.
Zeke will be taking the vacation of a lifetime, along with his family, in Hawaii, and Friday’s party was to wish them well on their way.
It’s a fitting repose after a year of surgery and 18 rounds of chemotherapy, which can take so much out of someone who should be enjoying the prime of his youth and the cornerstone of adulthood.
But Zikas hasn’t been alone in his struggle, and the amount of support he’s received has astounded both him and his family. And some of that succor has come from astounding places.
Former Husker and current Detroit Lions football player Ndamukong Suh tweeted about the Papillion-La Vista High School student, as has Texas A&M star and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who sent Zikas his autograph.
And, of course, there’s the community itself -- friends, family and others, like when his friends all shaved their heads in support of his fight against cancer.
“To have people beside you, to help you not get down, it means so much,” Zikas said.
Zikas had been doing better, and he said he feels fine, like his old self again. He has a full head of hair growing back after chemo treatments and acts like most 16-year-olds at a party with their friends.
But last month a cancerous nodule was found in his lung and removed on Feb. 4. He and his parents are praying it’s the only one there.
Zikas’ parents, Erica and Tim Zikas, have shed many tears in the past year. While the burden falls heaviest on their son, they keep their hopes up through his relentless determination to not just survive — but live and live fully.
In fact, Zeke plans to play on the Monarchs’ golf team next year.
“He is our support,” said Tim Zikas. “His attitude is phenomenal and it keeps us going.”
Currently the family is weighing their options on how to approach Zikas’ future treatments, and will wait awhile before getting another scan.
“We just need to stay positive,” Tim Zikas said. “If we get down, he gets down, too.”
Zeke’s spirit will be buoyed in a big way as a result of a trip that’s been arranged through the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Nebraska.
Through the foundation, the Zikas family will get to travel to Hawaii on an all-expense paid trip. They even get to ride in a limousine to the airport and back.
Brigette Young, president of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Nebraska, said it’s amazing to see how strong kids like Zikas can be despite the hardship set before them.
“They are so strong, and they fight so hard,” Young said.
“It’s not surprising to see how well he handles it.”
When Zikas and his family met with Young back in June, she asked him what his dream vacation was. Zikas, a golfer at heart, said he always wanted to golf on the coast.
“They’ll get a week to be happy,” Young said. “To forget about their troubles and share some time in paradise together for awhile.”