Vickroy: Parents pursue their daughter’s legacy of hope
BY DONNA VICKROY email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy July 25, 2014 9:06PM
Leslie Bazzo Janes and Jeff Janes are determined to carry on their daughter Julia's wishes and help find a cure for pediatric cancer. Here, Leslie holds Julia's favorite book. | Donna Vickroy/Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 28, 2014 6:49AM
In the eight months since their daughter, Julia, succumbed to pediatric cancer, Jeff Janes and Leslie Bazzo Janes have been moving full speed ahead toward fulfilling the promise they made to their youngest child: to raise awareness and help find a cure.
“Julia wanted for us to continue,” Jeff Janes said. “So many of her friends (with cancer) have passed. So many are still fighting. We know we have to do something.”
One in about 300 kids in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer before age 15, Jeff said. So at a school the size of Tinley Park’s Andrew, where Jeff teaches science, that means six teens will suffer such a fate.
“That’s unacceptable,” he said. “We have to find a cure.”
In keeping with their daughter’s wishes and her altruistic spirit, the Janes formed Julia’s Legacy of Hope, a chapter of Cure It Foundation, a national nonprofit group founded by one of Julia’s first oncologists at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Dr. Jason Canner. It is aimed at ending this horrific disease.
Though their grief is palpable, both Jeff and Leslie, who began dating while they were students at Sandburg High School, are determined to remain strong. And they are bursting with ideas on how to see their new mission through.
They sell T-shirts, bracelets and, soon, infinity scarves and pillows that feature inspirational quotes that Julia used to pin to her boards on Pinterest. They’ve organized a read-a-thon in which kids can help raise money by participating in Julia’s favorite pastime.
And they are hosting a garage sale at their Oak Forest home Friday and Saturday, with proceeds going to Julia’s Legacy. Among the items for sale will be hundreds of things they bought for Julia to use after she became a teacher. Other items were gently by used by Leslie while she was a classroom teacher. She now is math intervention specialist for Summit Hill District 161 in Frankfort.
Shoppers can expect to find art supplies, board games, teacher resource materials and, of course, books.
Julia was an elementary education major at Bradley University when she died Nov. 14. At just 20, she had many accomplishments under her belt, including establishing a college chapter of Cure Search, and was on the threshold of a promising future.
“She loved children so much,” Leslie said. Even on her sickest days, when most teens in the oncology ward would put on their hoodies and ask to be left alone so they could simply sleep through their sickness, Julia would often muster the strength to take to the hallways, greeting youngsters, reading stories and offering comfort, her mother said.
The family’s nightmare began two days before Julia’s 16th birthday when she was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma. She was treated with a cocktail of five different kinds of chemotherapy, one of which led to the leukemia that later killed her.
“She did her entire junior year of high school at our kitchen table and still managed to be inducted into the National Honor Society,” Jeff said.
She graduated Oak Forest High School with a host of other awards as well, among them the Imagine award, the Bengal Inspirational Award and the “We” award for selflessness.
Julia beat Ewing Sarcoma and was doing well at Bradley when terror came calling again.
“She was freshman student of the year,” Jeff said.
She was doing so well, in fact, that her parents weren’t concerned during winter break of her sophomore year when she asked to borrow Jeff’s car so she could go to the clinic for her 6-month bloodwork and then go shopping.
“It was no big deal,” Jeff said. “She had no symptoms. Her hair was growing back. She was happy.”
Later that week, Jeff recalled, while the family was enjoying pizza at Aurelio’s, Julia casually asked to borrow his car again.
Jeff recalled: “She said, ‘Oh, by the way, Dad, I’m gonna need your car on Tuesday.’ I said, ‘Sure why?’ She said, ‘They didn’t like the bloodwork so I have to go back to the clinic,’ and I said, ‘OK, I’m going with you. We are going with you.’ ”
There was a 1 in 2 million chance his daughter would get Ewing sarcoma, Jeff said. “And then there was a 1 in 100 chance that she would get leukemia from her cure,” he said.
“Being a math and science guy,” Jeff said, “I used to tease her. I’d say, ‘You know I used to tell you you’re 1 in a million; you’re really 1 in 200 million.’”
If sarcoma was awful, leukemia was devastating, causing painful, horrifying side effects, details of which are too disgusting to share, the Janes said.
“They were so bad that the doctors came in and said, ‘Can we put this in medical journals, doctors need to learn about this?’ ” Jeff said.
In January 2013, Julia had developed ARDS, acute respiratory distress syndrome, a form of double pneumonia. She was taken to ICU and told she’d have to be intubated and put on a special machine that would put a lot of pressure on her lungs.
“The chaplain came in and said, ‘Julia, are there two words you can think about and focus on when you breathe in and out?’ ” Jeff said.
She decided she would breathe in on hope and out on strength.
Leslie said they practiced that method, eventually changing to “comfort” and “peace,” until the day she died.
That day came in autumn, when Julia Janes — the girl whose parents would catch her reading with a flashlight into the wee hours, the girl whose big brother Michael used to carry her upstairs to her bed when she was too weak to walk, the girl so determined to beat cancer that she donated all of her savings to the cause — lost her battle.
Though devastated, the Janes believe Julia’s spirit is all around them. There are signs, some overt and some wondrous.
“Whenever we see purple, we look and see people wearing Julia’s (Legacy of Hope) shirt. People we don’t know at all,” Leslie said. They see the shirt at restaurants, on walking paths.
“It’s so touching,” she said. “People want to share her story.”
Because of Julia, Jeff now starts his classes every Monday with “Monday morning positives,” a nod to his daughter’s upbeat outlook.
“The spirit of Julia keeps us going,” Jeff said. “This is the hardest thing we ever did. Losing a child is backwards; it makes no sense for any parent. Julia had so much promise and had already accomplished so much and had so much more to give the world, and then she’s gone.”
The Janeses want to raise money specifically for pediatric cancer research.
Jeff said, “For every dollar that is spent on cancer research, 4 cents goes toward the kids. If that was increased by 1 penny, it would be a 25 percent increase in pediatric cancer funding.
According to the National Cancer Institute, pediatric cancer is the leading cause of death by disease past infancy among children in the United States. The institute estimates that in 2014, 15,780 children and adolescents up to 19 years old will be diagnosed with cancer in this country; 1,960 of them will die of the disease.
“I feel sorry for anybody who has cancer,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking. Walk up and down the fourth floor of (Advocate Children’s Hospital) and see these little kids throwing up. It’s not right.”
Leslie added: “It helps us in the grieving process to be busy. In the spirit of Julia, we don’t want to be busy for us, we want to be busy for the kids (with cancer). That’s what she’d want.”
The Teachers Treasures garage sale will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Janes home, 15536 Lorel Ave., Oak Forest.
For more information on Julia’s Legacy of Hope, visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/juliaslegacy or cureitfoundation.org.