YORK, Maine — The last of the chemo and radiation ended last week for Jackson Forbes. He’s feeling strong and even played basketball again with his seventh-grade team in the York Recreation Department’s Charlie Brown Tournament recently.
Life, in short, is getting back to normal for the 13-year-old — eight months after he was diagnosed with a rare form of pediatric cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma.
It has been quite a journey, not only for Jackson but for the entire Forbes family, as they have accepted the gracious help of friends and strangers alike who have dropped off meals, sent gas cards and created “chemo bags” — backpacks filled with books, magazines, snacks and other items to help distract Jackson during his hours-long chemo and radiation sessions.
“From day one, when people found out, they have been so incredibly generous,” said Annie Forbes, Jackson’s mother. “It’s made a bad situation better, to know all the support you have, not only from family and friends you know well but also people you’ve never met before.”
Jackson embarked on an aggressive therapy after a lymph node in his leg swelled and it was biopsied, coming back as cancer. While no cancerous activity was detected by mid-October, it was still necessary for him to go through chemotherapy and radiation.
He remembers his last chemo session at the Maine Children’s Cancer Program in Scarborough. He was there all day, and as he left he rang a bell by the door placed there just for kids like him who were not going to be returning.
“It was really great,” he said.
His mom said that there will be another set of scans in mid-April and if all is clear, Jackson can have his port catheter removed — a port placed under his skin on his chest that allows drugs to be administered and blood drawn.
“It’s really annoying,” he said.
As Jackson himself looks back on the last nine months, one memory really stands out. This past January, he received a letter and a very special box of items from York native Justan Dillow of Rollinsford, New Hampshire, a civil engineer who at the time was deployed in the Middle East with the 157th Civil Engineer Squadron based at Pease Air National Guard Base.
“I was inspired by your story and wanted to write to you and let you know that we are all behind you while you fight your battle, just like we are fighting our battle over here,” Dillow wrote.
Inside, in addition to a hat, water bottle and light, he sent Jackson a flag that was flown over the base where Dillow was stationed. Not only that, it was flown in Jackson’s honor on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor and folded by the base Honor Guard.
“You should keep it and protect it and respect and honor it. Always know that it was flown and folded, with honor, to help you stay strong and motivated in your fight,” Dillow wrote.
Dillow said in an email that he tries to take on “a few special things like this while deployed,” helping children from the Seacoast area who are “doing incredible things or fighting incredible fights” like cancer.
“We all have our own battle to fight, each different, some seen, some not,” he said.
The pride in Jackson’s voice was clear as he showed a visitor the flag, saying he was going to get a triangular flag box to keep it in and preserve it.
The Maine chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation also contacted the family recently, offering the family a wish of Jackson’s choice.
“I was, like, excited and surprised,” he said.
Jackson quickly decided on a trip, and after an extended Google search chose a family resort at the Turks and Caicos islands in the Caribbean. Initially thinking he might like a snowboarding adventure, after the February Maine has experienced, “I looked up tropical islands,” he said.
The family will be going next winter.
As he looks forward to a cancer-free future, Jackson said he really appreciates everything that’s been done on his behalf in the past nine months.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” he said. “It’s like been a really big help.”