Home sweet home
SILT – Four-year-old Nathan Jaffrey is thrilled with his hair.After eight long months of battling cancer, he is finally back home with his family in Silt and – while it may still be peach fuzz at this point – his hair is starting to grow back.”Nathan is in remission right now,” said his father, Marc Jaffrey, a local builder and contractor and longtime volunteer with the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District. “He’ll stay at home as long as he’s in remission. Right now he’s running around and playing like a 4-year-old.”Nathan was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a children’s cancer, in late May 2005. Since then, he has undergone numerous surgeries and extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. A tumor was found in his lung, which spread to his lymph nodes, neck and bone marrow.For months, Nathan was in Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver, while his parents, Marc and Mary, stayed at his bedside. With two other children, Addie, 2, and Alex, 13, the Jaffreys could not work and spent most of their time in Denver.In September 2005, the tumor was removed, and in October, a stem cell transplant was done. Doctors used a very strong dose of chemotherapy to kill all Nathan’s blood cells, replacing them with cancer-free stem cells that had been taken from him in June.”That left him with no way to fight an infection,” Marc Jaffrey said. “He was in Children’s Hospital locked in isolation in ICU (Intensive Care Unit) for six weeks. We had to gown up and glove up before we could see him.”
However, Nathan contracted a virus and became very sick.”At one point, we thought we were going to lose him,” Jaffrey said. “But the good news was, he bounced back.”The other good news was the Jaffreys discovered Mary was pregnant and due in April.”For a while there, Nathan was throwing up and Mary was throwing up,” Jaffrey said good-naturedly.Nathan came home after Thanksgiving, but he and Marc then left to go to Boston for additional radiation treatments using a specialized proton beam that can more accurately administer the radiation to a specific location.”There are only two of them in the country,” Jaffrey said. “It’s like a laser beam that’s used for radiation because the tumor was so close to his heart and spinal cord.”Nathan loved Boston and eating lobster at Legal Seafood every day and visiting the aquarium.
“He had a great time. I used to love lobster, but I don’t care if I never see it again,” Jaffrey remarked wryly.Still, there were other problems that again landed Nathan in the hospital.They finally returned to Colorado two weeks ago and Nathan is now deemed to be in remission, although he is still on medication and must get his blood and urine checked once a month to ensure there are no recurring neuroblastoma cells. He is also undergoing physical therapy because the treatments have affected his hearing and the way he walks, Jaffrey said.”But there are no more tubes,” Jaffrey said with relief. “He’s tubeless. He plays like a 4-year-old, but after two hours he gets tired and cranky.”Throughout the ordeal, Jaffrey said he and his wife have been thankful to the community for their support. In September, the Burning Mountain Fire Protection District and people from around the valley held a fundraiser for Nathan, which he was well enough at the time to attend.The Jaffreys now want to give back by starting an LLC resource network to support Western Slope children and their families who are going through similar experiences and who have to travel extensively for their treatments.”The LLC can send care packages, games and phone cards,” Jaffrey said. “It sounds dumb, but its the little things that are overwhelming. If a small town like Silt can raise $40,000 to help one kid out, we must be able to help these other kids out.”
A resource network might also allow affected families to accept help they might not otherwise.”You always feel guilty,” Jaffrey explained. “Everyone offers to help, but you feel guilty taking them up on it. This resource could coordinate the help because 95 percent of the time, you don’t take the person up on it because you know them and you know they’re busy, too.”But for right now, little Nathan Jaffrey is happy to be at home with his friends, family – and his new hair.”His hair, eyebrows and eyelashes are growing back,” his dad said proudly. “He’s thrilled. But sometimes I wonder about the medicine. His hair was always dirty blond – now its coming in jet black.”Even with his new crop of peach fuzz, Nathan still isn’t totally out of the woods.”We can start to breathe easy, but not really until three or four years (of remission),” Jaffrey said. “Right now there’s a 60 to 70 percent chance of a full recovery. But that’s a long way considering the 5 to 15 percent chance we had before. And after four years, it goes up to 90 to 95 percent.”In the meantime, the Jaffreys are appreciative of everything people have done for them.”We’re so happy and we’re so thankful for everyone’s prayers,” Jaffrey said.
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Autumn Rivera, a sixth-grade science teacher at Glenwood Springs Middle School, was recognized Friday as the 2022 Colorado Teacher of the Year.