”They thought I was choking on a chicken nugget,” remembered sophomore Jacob Jovick. Bright-eyed and radiating positive energy, he recalled the events during the summer after fifth grade that would lead to the biggest shock in his lifetime: Finding out that he had cancer.

“I was suffocating to death. My parents called 911, and I passed out before the paramedics got there,” Jovick said. “The paramedics did CPR and stuck a tube down my throat to help me breathe.”

Jacob Jovick was diagnosed with T-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma several years ago. Photo by Elvis Wong of Casa Grande High School

Jovick was rushed to the emergency room. The ER doctor recommended that Jovick be airlifted immediately to Oakland Children’s Hospital.

“My parents drove down to Oakland to meet me and the doctors,” Jovick said. “My mom wasn’t allowed to see me because I was fighting for my life and the doctors didn’t know much yet.”

The doctors performed a CT scan to see if they could find the chicken nugget so they could suck it out in surgery. But the doctors found something very different.

“That night, the surgeon went into the waiting room and told my parents that he had some good news and some bad news,” Jovick said. “The good news was that I was still alive. They didn’t know why I was still alive. The bad news was that I had a 5- to 10-pound tumor in my chest, growing by the minute.”

Jovick was diagnosed with T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Because of the rapidly growing mass, he was kept on a hospital bed that moved around in a circular motion to prevent the tumor from entirely shutting off his airway.

“I was in the hospital for five weeks straight, and then I came back two weeks later because I had trouble breathing,” Jovick said.

Jovick practically skipped all of sixth grade because he was in the hospital every other week for chemotherapy.

“I am really glad I didn’t get held back,” Jovick said. “My teachers said I did very well for skipping most of the year. During seventh grade, I still had chemo, but I could go to school.”

When people found out about Jovick’s condition, he could feel he was being treated differently.

“It bugged me. Friends and family wouldn’t be themselves,” he said. “I wanted people to treat `me like I am a person.”

“I think people were a lot nicer because they heard he had cancer, but he just wanted everyone to treat him like he was a normal kid,” said his friend, sophomore Chase Stafford. “I would treat him like any of my other friends and he liked that a lot.”

Jovick went through chemotherapy and radiation. Unfortunately, he experienced some side effects.

“Chemo felt like having the flu every day, but worse,” winced Jovick. “I got blisters on my feet, and I was nauseated.”

Emotionally, Jovick had his good and bad days.

“Sometimes I would think ‘Why me?’ and then I’d tell myself not to go there,” he said. “I decided I was going to play this cancer like a game. I was going to joke around and stay positive.”

Jovick hung around the nurses’ station and made friends with nurses, as well as patients.

“They told my mom that I was a unique patient with a lot of positive energy,” Jovick said. “They would say funny things like, ‘No, you got Jacob last time!’ and they would take turns with me.”

Jovick got restless in the hospital.

“I went through phases where I wanted to go home so badly,” he said. “I missed a lot of fun things for a year, like I was at the hospital on Halloween while everyone was out trick-or-treating. It was hard.”

The doctors told Jovick and his family that the mass would shrink sometime after three months of treatment. In reality, the mass shrunk after three days, and a couple of small spots on Jovick’s kidney diminished.

“I was in remission five days after I was diagnosed, but they will never say that you are cancer-free,” Jovick said. “I’ve been in real remission for two years since stopping chemo, and I have to go to follow-up doctors appointments every three months.”

Jovick’s positivity and upbeat personality assisted in his recovery.

“They called me a trooper, and my parents and our friends were praying so hard,” Jovick said. “My parents just told everyone to keep doing what they were doing.”

Before Jovick was diagnosed, he never thought much about diseases or about the promise of tomorrow. Now, he plans to live with no regrets, trying not to think about the possibility of his cancer returning.

“He is really strong,” Stafford said. “He got a lot of support and I think that’s what kept him motivated to keep on living. He’s a good kid.”

“My treatment has a 90 percent success rate, and I just want to enjoy life without thinking about the negative outcomes since I’m finally healthy,” Jovick said. “I don’t want to get caught up in gossip and little fights because you never know if there’s going to be a tomorrow. You have to live life to the fullest.”