In Search Of…Hope Lives (Part 1)

A personal battle for two young men results in one amazing organization

Even though La Crosse Aquinas graduate Garrett Jerue and La Crosse Central grad Johnny Brevik are the same age, had many of the same interests and ran around in the same circles, they spent the majority of their young lives totally unaware of the other. Until their lives were both impacted by the same disease. Garrett’s diagnosis came first. “It was 2005 and I was playing football and I discovered a lump under my arm that I thought it was just an aggravated injury from lifting. It ended up not being what I thought it was. It ended up being stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.”

In 2008, Johnny got his own devastating news. “So I was 23, I had just graduated from college. I was in the prime of my life and so excited to get started. I knew something wasn’t right and I just thought, I haven’t been drinking a lot of fluids. Ended up at the ER at Gundersen and the doctor came in and said, ‘we think you have leukemia.’ And I said, ‘I think you have the wrong room – I’m dehydrated.”

And while they faced their battles at different times, it was very much a parallel version of emotions and experiences.

“When you hear the word cancer, every other word out of the doctors mouth just goes mute. Because you get stopped.”
“It’s kind of a little bit of a blur after that.”
“You kind of meet in the conference room and you are having that meeting that you don’t want to be having with medical professionals.”
“I said, ok, when do I come back? And he said, ‘you’re not going anywhere.'”
“I immediately thought, ‘well this is curable, right?”
“I was 21 years old, I was invincible. There is something that you can’t control.”
 “Being 23 years old, you’re not even thinking about dying it’s not even remotely a factor that you’ve considered.”
“For the most part I never thought cancer was going to ultimately be the end of me.”

So many similarities and one more that would ultimately lead to their two paths crossing. Even though they were both in their twenties, their treatment protocol landed them in the pediatric oncology department and into the hands of longtime Gundersen doctor Bob Ettinger. “I’m the last doctor that any one wants to go to.”

Garrett was the oldest person in the pediatric department by far, but Dr. Ettinger says here’s a reason. “There’s clear data with some cancers that young adult patients treated on pediatric protocols do better.”

Better treatment but with it a big frustration. “I really didn’t have too many people to talk to that were my age that had been through a similar diagnosis. There were a lot of kids around, but I really wanted to speak to someone that had been through something close and I wasn’t able to attain that easily.”

And that’s how it happened…how an amazing endeavor was born.  Garrett made his desire for a mentorship program known to Dr. Ettinger. “We had a number of programs in place for other age groups. But not for his. So I was all on board.”

Garrett got the ball rolling for a program he would later name ‘A Bump in the Road.’ “I just didn’t want the next person to come in to have the same experience I had emotionally. If we could do something to make it better than I was happy to be a part of that.”

And so when Johnny Brevik walked through these doors a few years later with the same concerns and worries Garrett once had, “You want to be assured right away that you can beat this.”  Dr. Ettinger knew the first mentor in Garrett’s program should be Garrett himself. “He came up to me and said, ‘I got a guy for you to meet. You’re the same age. He’s a lot like you and shares in the same wanting to help make things better after he’s done.”

“We developed an amazing friendship in my last year of treatment,” says Brevik “We both had the goal of wanting to do even more.”

“Johnny was the perfect partner to get involved and take it to the next level.” And take it to the next level they did.