A recent Finger Lakes Times article featured the story of J’Lon Woody, a 10-year old from Geneva and the nephew of Deborah Woody, head of the housekeeping department at HWS. J’Lon is battling cancer in his spine, undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. This past weekend, a fundraiser was held for the Woody family, organized by Erica Cooney-Connor, the Colleges’ director of conferences and events, and William Smith student Kristen “Alex” Cragg ’13, who will be living in the Hope House next year.
“I have truly enjoyed doing all that I can to try and get the community involved, raise as much money as possible, but more importantly, make this day special and fun for J’Lon and his family,” Cragg is quoted.
The full story follows.
Finger Lakes Times
“They’re In It Together”
Genevan is never far from her son’s side in battle against cancer
Jessica Youngman • June 11, 2010
GENEVA – Janet Woody likes to tell the story of her oldest son’s birth. Weighing in at 10 pounds, three ounces, J’Lon made his entrance into the world by cesarean section on Dec. 17, 1999.
Janet’s face was blocked by a curtain, but her best friend, Annette Mallard, was in the operating room and told her baby J’Lon was tucked up so high in her chest that the doctor had to work extra hard to get him out.
With a measure of pride, Janet says he was wrapped around her heart even then.
“He’s always been so close to me,” Janet said of her shy little boy who loves to read and learn about science in school.
And so, when a doctor walked into a hospital room just shy of two months ago and told Janet that J’Lon had a cancerous tumor on his spine, it was as if all the air had been sucked out of the place.
“I thought cancer equals death,” she said. “I had to fall on my knees and just pray that God wouldn’t take my son away from me.”
The fear has turned into resolve.
“I do believe he will be healed,” she said. “It’s a journey – it’s something I have to go through.”
Ashley Woody helps her brother J’Lon stand up to use his walker for a while. He tries to stand and use his leg muscles a few times every day to regain the strength in them.
This single mom of three isn’t going it alone.
Another little boy in J’Lon’s school – North Street Elementary – was diagnosed with a rare, cancerous brain tumor around the same time as J’Lon this past spring. Maxwell Harris, who has just started his third grueling round of chemotherapy, has seen his schoolmate J’Lon at Strong Memorial Hospital, where they both get treatment.
The boys and their families didn’t know each other, nor did they have much in common, really, until they found themselves in the same unwelcome fraternity.
The boys now know more medical terms than most grown-ups along with what it’s like to be on the receiving end of their parents’ almost constant, worried stares.
They know, too, that they are loved. Friends and strangers alike have shown their support for the two families in small and big ways.
Hundreds turned out for a fundraiser called Miles-for-Max at the Geneva Lakefront Park last month. This Sunday afternoon, a similar fundraiser, called Joggin’-4-J’Lon, will be held at the same place.
“The support from the community is just unbelievable,” said Deborah Woody, J’Lon’s aunt. “I’m overwhelmed and just humbled. You don’t realize the value of living in a small community until you’re in a situation like this.”
A constant vigil
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary the morning of March 23 when Janet Woody got her two sons, J’Lon and Sharod, 8, off to school and then headed to her job as a teacher’s aide at the high school.
Then the school nurse called. J’Lon fell several times, once while simply trying to pick up a little girl’s dropped Chapstick. It seemed unusual, the nurse said, suggesting J’Lon go to the emergency room for a check-over.
Janet heeded the advice and hurried to pick up her son. But tests and X-rays didn’t seem to worry the doctor all that much and J’Lon was sent home.
A neurologist later told Janet it might be something called “transient weakness.”
“Within a couple days she felt like it would go away,” said Janet.
But it didn’t.
A few days later the fever started, and J’Lon was barely able to walk. Another emergency room visit ended with J’Lon being transferred to Strong in an ambulance.
That’s where Janet got the terrible news. Cancerous cells had invaded her son’s spinal cord.
J’Lon underwent surgery to remove part of the tumor and lost most use of his legs.
He spent a few weeks recovering at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester. His mom stayed by his side, always.
Deborah Woody worried about her sister, barely sleeping in a bed next to J’Lon, “listening to every breath he’s taking.”
“Watching her go through this has basically been like me going through it because we’re a close-knit family,” said Deborah. “What affects one of us affects all of us.”
The family has settled into a new routine the past few weeks. J’Lon is back at home now, though bedridden. While his little brother heads off to school, J’Lon and his mom go to Strong where he receives radiation. Then, it’s back to Geneva where Janet administers chemo and keeps vigil by his bedside.
Dinners and cards
J’Lon hasn’t complained about his ordeal. Instead he has worried about the impact on his family, which also includes 25-year-old sister Ashley.
When he has been hospitalized, nurses have had to ask him to speak up when he has been in pain. He always tells them he doesn’t want to be any trouble.
He’s the same with his mom – he seems almost hesitant to ask her for help, though she rarely leaves his side.
“He’s always been that type of kid,” Janet said. “He does not want anybody to do too much for him.”
Deborah Woody said she has drawn strength from her nephew’s resilience.
“I don’t see me going through something like that without saying ‘Why me?'” she said.
It hasn’t been easy for Sharod, seeing his big brother unable to get out of bed on his own. And no matter how hard Janet and the rest of her family tries to give Sharod extra attention, the focus is on his brother and the cancer that has invaded their household.
The school district has been extremely supportive, Janet said. J’Lon is tutored at home, and staff and students have kept the family’s mailbox filled with cards.
Janet’s colleagues have cooked dinner for her family and donated gift cards. With Janet out of work, the support has helped her make ends meet.
A family that wishes to remain anonymous also has offered to pay Janet’s rent.
Additional financial help has come from her fellow parishioners at Divine Destiny Ministries on Lewis Street.
It has been overwhelming. But what has most helped Janet carry on is her faith. And her son’s.
“He told me himself that God was going to heal him,” she said.
When Deborah Woody told a colleague at Hobart and William Smith Colleges about her nephew’s battle with cancer, she saw tears in her eyes.
Soon after, that colleague, Erica Cooney-Connor, told Woody she wanted to do something to help 10-year-old J’Lon. And so, “Joggin’-4-J’Lon” was born.
The event, from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, will raise money for J’Lon and his mother, Janet Woody, who has been out of work while caring for her son.
Cooney-Connor, the Colleges’ director of conferences and events, enlisted the help of one of her employees, William Smith student Kristen Cragg. They work closely with Deborah, who is the head of the housekeeping department.
“Because I am going to be living in Hobart and William Smith’s Hope House in the fall, Erica thought that organizing this event would be a good experience for me,” said Cragg.
Hope House is devoted to cancer awareness and is one of the campus’ themed residences.
“I have truly enjoyed doing all that I can to try and get the community involved, raise as much money as possible, but more importantly, make this day special and fun for J’Lon and his family,” Cragg said.
During Joggin’-4-J’Lon, participants will jog, bike or walk along the Seneca Lake waterfront, starting at the Geneva Chamber of Commerce. Baskets, T-shirts, baked goods and bracelets will be raffled and sold. The event will move to the Bristol Field House in case of rain.
Also, tonight’s Geneva Red Wings game is being dedicated to J’Lon and Maxwell Harris, another local boy fighting cancer.
Red Wings manager and owner Dave Herbst said the two boys have been invited to tour the locker room before the game and throw out the first pitch if they’re up to it.
Anyone wishing to make a donation to help the Woody family can send checks to an account at the Seneca Falls Savings Bank. Checks should be made out to “Jog-for-J’Lon c/o Mark Miller” and sent to Seneca Falls Savings Banks, P.O. Box 1050, Geneva.
– By Jessica Youngman
Jog for J’lon
“Joggin’-4-J’Lon” will be from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Geneva Chamber of Commerce on the Seneca Lake waterfront. Rain site is the Bristol Field House.