by Martha Smith
Sitting across from me in my office, you’d never guess Jaxson Guthrie, decked out in a baseball jersey and a Chicago Cubs hat, had already been in the fight of his life. At the age of 13, he is tall, eager, knees and elbows and just sporting a newly-achieved baritone voice.At the age of five, he was your typical boy, dirt-streaked, active and obsessed with his favorite hobby, baseball, or as the case may be, t-ball. But there was another thing on Jaxson’s mind, and that was his tummy aches. His parents, Tracy and Laura Guthrie knew something was wrong, and after almost a year of repeated doctor’s visits to find out why Jaxson was always complaining from a stubborn fever and abdominal pain, they finally received their answer: Jaxson was suffering from a rare form of Wilm’s tumor, and it was already stage four, having spread to his lungs.
Normally, Wilm’s tumor doesn’t present itself with fever or abdominal pain. The mass, which is a solid tumor that grows on the kidney, is usually found when it’s seen or felt on the abdomen. As dire as it sounds, Jaxson’s symptoms turned out to be a stroke of good fortune, as by the time the tumor was found, it was already growing into his abdomen, instead of out, crowding his internal organs.
“The surgeon told me it was God’s way of hitting me upside the head to let me know my son was sick,” Laura stated.
While his peers were just beginning Kindergarten in Scottsboro, Jaxson was headed to St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where he underwent surgery to remove the tumor and the affected kidney and radiation to shrink the tumors in both of his lungs. Because there is a St. Jude affiliate stationed in Huntsville, the Guthrie’s were able to take Jaxson closer to home to undergo the majority of his chemotherapy treatments later on.
As if the ordeal of these treatments wasn’t enough for Jaxson to deal with, he soon met another brick wall when he developed neuropathy in his arms and legs from the treatments.
“At one point,” Laura stated, “his neuropathy was so bad he couldn’t hold a pencil. There were days I left in tears because my child couldn’t even use a crayon.”
A few months later, Laura Guthrie was once again given news from the latest scans of Jaxson: a thumbs-up.
“I told that doctor, ‘Well, that doesn’t tell me anything,’ and she said that Memphis would have to confirm, but as far as they could tell, Jaxson’s scans were clear, and the tumors in his lungs were gone. I’m pretty sure I leaped over that bed and hugged her, and we cried,” Laura stated.
May 2nd of this year marked the eight-year anniversary from the day Jaxson completed his last chemo treatment. Today, he plays pitcher, first base and some outfield for Scottsboro Junior High’s baseball team.
“I’ll never forget him standing on the mound at his first game, pitching his first strike-out. I stood there and squalled. People were wondering what was wrong with me, and I was just like, y’all just don’t know. You don’t know what he went through to get here.”
On the wall in his bedroom, there is a framed and autographed photo and letter from Anthony Rizzo, also a childhood cancer survivor, encouraging Jaxson to continue to keep fighting to play baseball.
Jaxson recently had an opportunity to give his own autograph, when Rodney Smith, Jr. selected him to represent the state of Alabama on his latest 50-state tour, recognizing children who are going through childhood cancer, children who have beaten it or sharing the stories of those who succumbed to the illness.
“When he announced that he [Smith] was going to do a childhood cancer tour, I was excited, but somewhere along the way, Jaxson was nominated, and he chose Jaxson to represent Alabama. I was sitting at one of his ball games when I got the text message. I started crying, and everybody was looking at me like I’d lost my mind. But I was honored, shocked; I had no words. But after eight years on this journey, I can honestly say that’s happened to me a lot,” Laura stated.
Jaxson, number four on the tour, was able to sign the lawnmower that will bear the names of someone from each state who has experienced childhood cancer in some form. At the end of the tour, the lawnmower will be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to St. Jude.
Rodney Smith, Jr. stated, “I mow for a few different causes each year, and childhood cancer was one of them. I think it’s important to spread awareness about all the different forms of cancers affecting kids. With this tour, my goal is to highlight kids who are fighting cancer, in remission, and sadly, kids who have passed away to cancer. It was important to me to share Jaxson’s story because he fought and beat cancer that was in stage four.”
For now, Jaxson returns annually to St. Jude to undergo a barrage of tests to check for any secondary cancers or organ damage. To date, they have stayed pristine.
When asked what Laura had to say to parents who were going through the same thing, she stated, “Don’t give up. Keep fighting. There’s always hope. Even in the dark days, there’s always hope. There are going to be dark days, but just hang on and trust in God because He’ll pull you out of them. Look for the ways He’s going to pull you out of them, because they’re going to be in unexpected places.”
To other kids in the thick of it, Jaxson stated, simply, “Don’t give up. There’s always a chance.”
You can learn more about Mr. Smith’s tour by visiting his Facebook page, and more about Jaxson by hitting up a local Junior High baseball game. Or two. Go Braves!