by Karen Mead-Elford, staff writer
Justin Cole (Courtesy Photo)
B-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia is an enormously complex stream of words to label a twelve-year-old boy, but that is exactly the challenge facing Justin Cole, a 6th-grade student and athlete at Ovid-Elsie schools. Justin, who is passionate about football, soccer, and basketball, was officially diagnosed with the disease on Sept. 11 at Sparrow Hospital, Lansing. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) is the most prevalent form of cancer in children. It affects certain cells in the immune system that are called B-cells and/or T-cells. In Justin’s case, the B-cells are where his troubles began.
One day prior to his diagnosis this active youngster was playing football on Saturday, Sept. 10 as a quarterback for Ovid-Elsie Youth Football. According to his mother, Kirsten Cole, her only son had jammed his finger playing basketball a few days prior to the game. She had taped it for him since it was swollen, and bruised, but did not appear broken. At the Sept. 10 game, Justin’s finger was really bothering him. “He just seemed like he was in slow-motion,” Kirsten stated. “They pulled him off the field and one of my friends, a nurse, looked him over. He was white. By halftime, he was not able to walk. He was very dizzy, very weak.” Justin’s symptoms had come on exceptionally fast.
Kirsten took her son to the emergency room at Memorial Healthcare, “They were super efficient. It was a whirlwind.” She was logically concerned about Justin’s blood sugar levels because her daughter, Vivian, a 10th-grader at Ovid-Elsie, has Type-One Diabetes. As it turned out, x-rays revealed that her son’s finger was not broken, and other tests showed he was not diabetic, though his blood levels were off. Justin’s father, Josh, was then called in to join his wife and son on an ambulance trip to Sparrow Hospital.
After the Sept. 11 diagnosis of ALL, Justin spent the next week at Sparrow. “Talk about teams of doctors and nurses at Sparrow,” Kirsten expressed her gratitude for the hospital staff.
Justin’s line of treatment involves chemotherapy every single Monday for at least two months. Two types of chemo are delivered through a surgical port, and a third kind of chemo involves a lumbar puncture. The ensuing medical treatments have weakened his delicate immune system so he has to wear a mask and remain mostly secluded; a difficult road for an active kid. Luckily, Justin has the backing of his parents, two sisters (Vivian and Evalyn), and two dogs (Lucy and Desi) to help him along.
As it turns out, Justin has even more support than his own immediate family can offer. An entire community, going far beyond the borders of the Ovid-Elsie area, has pledged to support him, and amazing things have been happening in his favor since. His ‘Aunt’ Sarah Price, a family friend, has established a fundraising page under Team JC at https://www.gofundme.com/2hynb5h8. Sarah’s son, Beau, is Justin’s best friend and the two have maintained a sense of normalcy by playing their favorite video games. His school friends have been making him cards, he received an autographed MSU football, dozens of people have purchased Team JC blaze-orange t-shirts, and it doesn’t stop there.
On Sunday, Oct. 2 the Owosso Youth Football teams played the Ovid-Elsie teams. The 6th grade and 8th-grade Owosso teams, coached respectively by Ray Doyle and Brian Freeman, collaborated to wear orange socks and wristbands in Justin’s honor. Jacob Shepherd from Owosso presented Justin’s dad with a signed football, and a collection of over $400 was gathered for the Cole family.
“Watching with Justin on the sidelines, well, I could not keep my eyes from tearing up. The overwhelming support and pure love from our community and Owosso. I want to say thank you. It was truly beautiful,” Kirsten shared.
More fundraising events are being planned to help the family with ongoing medical expenses as Justin continues his ALL treatments.