Forever fighting: GJ’s Jordan Jones overcomes testicular cancer
On Oct. 24, 2007, Jordan Jones was playing junior football with his friends.
His West Raiders won the Mesa County Junior Football Association Super Bowl that night, 48-0 over the Fruita Cowboys.
The 13-year-old liked to ride his dirt bike and play video games, but for the 5-foot-6, 150-pound defensive end, football was his sport.
“I got some film from that eighth-grade group that won the championship and Jordan Jones was a guy you noticed,” Grand Junction coach Robbie Owens said.
On Oct. 25, 2007, Jones found out he had Stage IV testicular cancer.
Discovery and treatment
Two days before the Super Bowl, Kim Jones noticed a lump on the side of her son’s neck, about half the size of a grapefruit and soft to the touch.
Kim Jones said she first thought it was a thyroid problem, but with more investigation, learned Jordan’s back had been hurting. He had lost about 10 pounds.
Jordan was rushed to an urgent care facility. The next day, he was told his bloodwork looked fine, but to make an appointment with his pediatrician.
The day after the Super Bowl, Jones had a CT scan at the St. Mary’s Advanced Medicine Pavilion.
The results stunned the family.
The testicular cancer was in the fourth stage and had started with a lump on his testicles, but spread throughout his body. The worst of the tumors were in his abdomen and neck.
“Never did we think it would be (testicular cancer),” Kim Jones said. “It was such a struggle.”
Doctors sent the family to Children’s Hospital in Denver, and a couple of days after arriving, he was in surgery.
The operation removed the diseased testicle and placed a mediport catheter just below his right collarbone.
The catheter was where he would be receiving chemotherapy, in addition to many other medications.
“I was in the treatment and I didn’t know you would lose your hair, but I would grab a chunk of my hair and it would pull out,” Jones said. “It hit me that this is really happening.”
By January 2008, Jones had completed three cycles of chemotherapy, but was told the tumors weren’t responding. Instead, they were growing at an aggressive rate. The tumors surrounding the thoracic duct were starting to block his airway.
Tumors in his abdomen and pelvis were also growing and enveloping his major vascular structures and surrounding his kidneys.
The only option was major surgery.
Jones’ doctor at the time, Dr. Steven Moulton, suggested a second and possibly third opinion.
The family contacted one of the leading hospitals for cancer treatment, the MD Anderson Treatment Center in Houston, Texas.
The doctors at MD Anderson reviewed Jordan’s records and told the family that Jordan’s cancer was inoperable. The tumors had spread through so much of his body if they were to risk surgery, Jordan could have a very poor quality of life.
“When we got to MD Anderson and they said they couldn’t operate, it’s like your heart drops,” Jordan said. “You don’t know what to do.”
They didn’t take no for an answer. The family got another opinion from Dr. Craig R. Nichols, who was the medical director of lymphoma and testicular cancer research at Providence Cancer Center in Portland, Ore.
Nichols consulted with Moulton, and they decided Moulton could perform all of Jordan’s needed surgeries.
On Feb. 13, 2008, a 12-hour operation removed six pounds of tumors from Jordan’s body.
“We got a call every hour to tell us how great he was doing,” Kim Jones said. “When the surgeon came out he could barely speak because he knew he’d just saved Jordan’s life.”
return to the gridiron
Jordan had his final chemotherapy treatment in April 2008, and by that summer was back on the football field for summer conditioning.
The high school freshman was still recovering, though. His hair was growing back, but the catheter was still in place, so he couldn’t have any contact.
“I always figured I’d pull through it and end up back on the field,” Jones said. “I never had the thought that I’d stop playing.”
During the time Jones was fighting for his life, Owens was preparing for his first season as Grand Junction High School’s head football coach.
“I had my first meeting for football and here comes Jordan with his dad, and Jordan didn’t have any hair,” Owens said. “Not knowing anything about his situation, his dad’s like, ‘Jordan wants to be a part of football.’
“I’m thinking manager and I said anytime he wants to be around us that would be great, but we start doing summer workouts and he’s doing everything.”
Jones was able to participate in conditioning, but didn’t get back onto the field until the final two weeks of his freshman season.
“I probably played a lot better than I should have because I wanted it so badly,” Jones said. “It felt so good.”
Grand Junction quarterback Sean Rubalcaba was Jones’ teammate on the Super Bowl team. Rubalcaba recalls seeing Jones back on the practice field during their freshman year at Grand Junction.
“The day after the Super Bowl I remember hearing the news and it was just shocking that such a good kid was plagued with something like that,” Rubalcaba said. “So it was hard to believe that a year after being diagnosed with cancer he was out here playing tackle football.
“It was a great thing, and I don’t know how many people would be willing to do that, but Jordan is a tough kid who’s willing.”
It’s been an uphill battle for Jones. The cancer attacked his body while he probably would have been going through his biggest growth spurt.
Jones weighed only 120 pounds at the time of his surgery, but has worked his way back to 165 pounds.
Now a 17-year-old junior, Jones is still only 5-6, and relies on his quickness and smarts rather than his size.
“I had to start from nothing because I lost basically everything in the surgeries,” Jones said. “I’m still trying to catch up and build up all my muscle.”
Jones is a reserve outside linebacker and plays on special teams for the Tigers. Owens said he appreciates what Jones brings to the team.
“His parents have done a great job. A lot of parents would have been more hesitant to let him play because of the risk of injury,” Owens said. “They said Jordan is lucky to be alive, but at the same time this is something he loves and we should let the kid do something he loves.
“I look at him as someone who is a role player for us right now, but he’s a guy who next year will be on the field even more than he is now.
“He’s the epitome of what we are trying to build here at Grand Junction.”
Jones’ cancer was declared in remission in May 2008, but he’s had a few setbacks.
Three more tumors have been removed from his lungs and another from his neck.
“As the patients we always have to keep up on his health, so he has CT scans every six months,” Kim Jones said. “He was pretty strong and determined before cancer, but after treatment, he’s stronger.”
Kim Jones has seen her only son survive cancer, and she’s doing everything she can do to heighten awareness of testicular cancer.
Jones started the Forever Sunshine Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating young men about the importance of monthly self-examinations.
“It’s hard to believe that it happened, it’s still heartbreaking and shocking,” Kim Jones said. “That’s why the whole foundation is striving to create more national awareness.”
Jones has taken some big steps with the foundation. She recently learned Jordan’s story will be published in the Boy Scouts of America “Scouting Safely” section of its website.
She is also pushing to make testicular exams part of the health curriculum in all 50 states. Only Indiana teaches self-exams.
“Testicular self-exams need to be part of their health education,” Kim Jones said. “It’s simple to teach and we don’t know why this happens, but it’s a more and more prevalent cancer in young people.
“How we can fight back is education.”
Kim Jones has set up a Facebook page in addition to her website, testicularcancerawarenessfoundation.org.
The Facebook page has more than 4,000 followers.
“There are so many people out there fighting this that it’s encouraging for them,” Kim Jones said. “It gives them hope knowing that Jordan made it.”
Kim Jones has helped make Jordan’s story one of inspiration to anyone fighting cancer across the country, but Jordan is an inspiration to his own team.
“He defeated cancer and he’s out here being a normal kid,” Rubalcaba said. “You have to keep fighting when your back is against the wall and there is nothing left to do but fight. It’s tough to do, but Jordan accomplished it.”
Right now, Jordan is enjoying getting to be a kid again. His only goal in football is to have fun, and later in life he would like to join the armed forces.
His fight illustrates what testicular cancer can do to a healthy young man if not caught early.
“It’s important to check, because it took away a full two years out of my life of what I could have been doing,” Jones said. “You can save your life now.”