116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Alex Strom, 21, spends five days a week in a chair, hooked up to machines that pump drugs into his body.
He's facing three rounds of chemotherapy over the next four months after being diagnosed with stage 2B testicular cancer Dec. 9, just 10 days before his birthday.
'It's been rough,” Strom said as he finished a round of chemotherapy Feb. 9 at Physicians' Clinic of Iowa Hematology and Oncology clinic in Cedar Rapids.
Chemotherapy has taken a toll on his body, making him weak, tired and nauseous, he said. He hasn't been able to work, which is an added stress considering his fiance, Hannah Frizzell, is pregnant.
But despite the challenges Strom faces, he keeps a positive attitude, partly because of a 17-year-old named Jack Hoeger.
Hoeger was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer called primitive neuroectodermal tumors when he was five. Rather than a single tumor, Hoeger's brain and spinal column was littered with cancerous cells, explained his mother, Jen Hoeger.
It took six months to find the cancer, but when they did, the diagnosis was particularly scary because there were no survivors or protocol for treatment, Jen added.
Despite the uncertain path ahead, the Hoeger family pressed forward, carrying a bag of coloring books, comforting quotes and joke books from appointment to appointment.
'It went everywhere with us,” Jen said, explaining that even the simple comfort of an inspirational quote or a coloring book for Jack helped lift the family's spirits.
That's how the 'I Know Jack Pack” was born.
Inspired by their own experience with cancer, the Hoegers began filling backpacks with a variety of goodies - chapstick, coloring books, coupons, a planner, a water bottle, lotion and more - to give to cancer patients undergoing treatment. In May last year, they began distributing the packs through the Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center, but they also give them to patients who call the I Know Jack Foundation, which raises funds to support cancer patients and their families from diagnosis to survivorship.
'The best thing about the Jack packs is that they're meant not to treat the cancer, but the patient,” said Matt Schmitz, cancer exercise coordinator at the Community Cancer Center.
'Everybody is just blown away by how much is given,” he added.
Strom, a patient with the Community Cancer Center, received a pack when he started treatment. He was so moved by the donation that he asked to meet Jack, whose cancer has been in remission for nearly 12 years now.
'His story is so inspiring,” Strom said. 'To hear of children having to go through cancer breaks my heart. But seeing him prevail brings me up. If he can do it, I can, too.”
Although Jack hadn't done a personal visit before, he agreed to meet Strom in a treatment room at PCI on Thursday, Feb. 9. The pair became fast friends - bonding over cancer treatment, power rangers, horses and even the tattoos they want.
'To see how strong willed he is, so energetic and happy ... kids like Jack prove that everything is OK,” Strom said, adding, 'I hope I have a kid like that.”
All were especially surprised to discover Strom's unborn child shares a due date with Jack's birthday, too.
'The connection there was perfect,” Schmitz said.
But perhaps most important to Strom was the opportunity to thank the Hoeger's for their gift.
'It means a lot that other people are thinking about you, even beyond family,” Strom said.
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